For the tens of thousands who turned out in Mardid yesterday for a celebration of the place of the family, the appearance of Pope Benedict XVI via live satellite link from Rome was the highlight of their protest rally.

Conservative Spaniards took to the streets of their capital city to protest at the legalisation of gay marriage and the loosening of divorce laws enacted by the socialist government.

The Roman Catholic Church campaigned against gay rights but found they no longer have the power in Spain they once had.

Yesterday their ardent supporters rallied to show support for old-fashioned values.

The Pope told the crowd that the family is “based on the unbreakable union of man and woman and represents the privileged environment where human life is welcomed and protected from the beginning to its natural end.”

Benedict has consistently used family values arguments to oppose gay equality.

In July 2006 his views about gay marriage brought him into conflict with the secular Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

A senior Vatican source revealed that Mr Zapatero, who brought in Spain’s gay marriage laws, refused to attend a Mass said by the Pope.