Gay rights campaigners held a protest near St Peter’s Square on Sunday, during the Pope’s weekly prayers, after he said that legalising marriage equality “threatened the institute of marriage”.

About fifteen activists attended the protest, and carried with them coloured paper hearts emblazoned with messages such as “love has no barriers”, “gay marriage”, “talk about love”, “marry peace”, and “homophobia=death”, reported AFP.

The protesters were not allowed to access the square, which was full of worshippers who turned out to hear Pope Benedict XVI recite the Angelus on the third Sunday of Advent.

On Friday, in a message for World Day of Peace 2013, Pope Benedict XVI has described same-sex marriage as a threat to justice and peace, adding that it will spark harm for society.

Pope Benedict XVI was also pictured giving a blessing to Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, who promised to pass the country’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill as a “Christmas gift”.

He called for promotion of “the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union.

“Such attempts actually harm and help to destabilise marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society,” he said.

Another of the banners held up by protesters read “love thy neighbour”.

On 14 November, following marriage equality victories in the US, the Vatican, in what appeared to be an effort to brush off the moves towards equality, launched a new wave of efforts to strenghthen its opposition to LGBT rights, using newspapers and radio broadcasts to describe equal marriage as ”intrinsically disordered”, and to compare it to polygamy and polyandry.

Also on Sunday, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Paris, in support of the government’s decision to legalise equal marriage and adoption.