Spain : Benedict XVI’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

Source: FSSPX News

On November 6 and 7, Benedict XVI traveled to Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. According to the figures of the Central Statistics Office of the Church (on December 31, 2009), Spain has 42 million Catholics out of a population of almost 46 million, that is, 92.5%. Of the Catholics, only 13.5% practice their faith in this highly secularized nation. In Spain, there are 124 bishops and 24,849 priests, 16,859 of whom are diocesan priests and 7,900 religious priests, as well as 3,900 seminarians. 

The pope’s pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the consecration of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church) in Barcelona, the unfinished work of Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), were the principal events of the thirty-hour trip.

As usual, during his flight the pope spoke to around sixty journalists who were with him on the airplane.  On that occasion he mentioned, among other things, his hopes that there would “not [be a] conflict, but [an] encounter of faith and laicity [i.e. doctrinaire secularism]”.  He also explained in more detail the mission of the new dicastery that he recently created and put in charge of the new evangelization.  “[In establishing] this Dicastery I had in mind the whole world in itself because the newness of thought, the difficulty of thinking in Scriptural or theological concepts is universal; but naturally it has a centre, a focal point, and this is the Western world with its centralism, its laicity and the continuity of faith that must seek to renew itself in order to be faith today and to respond to the challenge of laicity. In the West all the important countries have their own way of living this problem: for example, consider the Visits to France, to the Czech Republic and to the United Kingdom where the same problem is everywhere present in a specific way for each nation, for each history, and this also applies essentially to Spain. Spain has always been ‘a native’ an original country of faith. Just think that the rebirth of Catholicism in the modern era was brought about above all thanks to Spain; figures such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of Avila are figures who really renewed Catholicism, who formed the features of modern Catholicism. Yet it is likewise true that a laicity, an anticlericalism, a strong and aggressive secularism developed in Spain, as we saw especially in the 1930’s. And this dispute, this clash between faith and modernity — both very intense — has also arisen once again in Spain today: that is why Spanish culture has as its central point the future of faith and of encounter, not conflict, but the encounter of faith and laicity. In this regard I thought of all the important countries of the West, but especially also of Spain.”

The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

Upon his arrival at the Santiago de Compostela airport, Benedict XVI exhorted Spain and all of Europe not to neglect moral, social, spiritual and religious questions. He maintained that many centuries of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela had given Spain and Europe a “spiritual physiognomy marked indelibly by the Gospel.” Having evoked Spain’s rich heritage of human and spiritual values, Benedict XVI recalled that in 1982, in Santiago de Compostela, John Paul II had exhorted “the old Continent to give a new impulse to its Christian roots.” “I too wish to encourage Spain and Europe to build their present and to project their future on the basis of the authentic truth about man, on the basis of the freedom which respects this truth and never harms it, and on the basis of justice for all, beginning with the poorest and the most defenseless,” he declared.  He went on to express his hopes for “a Spain and a Europe concerned not only with people’s material needs but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs.” All these, he noted, “are genuine requirements of our common humanity and only in this way can work be done effectively, integrally and fruitfully for man’s good.”

Then, having come on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela during its Jubilee Year, Benedict XVI visited the immense cathedral housing the tomb of the apostle Saint James. On the occasion of the pontifical visit, the famous botafumeiro, the enormous thurible hung from the vaulted ceiling of the cathedral, was lit. The pope placed the incense in it and then watched as eight men, the tiraboleiros, set the thurible, which weighs over eighty kilos, into motion. During his visit, Benedict XVI also briefly placed over his shoulders the pilgrim’s cape of Santiago decorated with the famous seashell. During a speech given in both Spanish and Galician, Benedict XVI recalled that a pilgrimage was not simply a cultural visit.  “To go on pilgrimage,” he explained, “really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe”. Celebrating Mass from an immense platform installed opposite the Romanesque cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and its Baroque façade, Benedict XVI deemed it tragic that “in nineteenth-century Europe, the conviction grew that God is somehow man’s antagonist and an enemy of his freedom.” Then he asked, “How is it then that God […] be denied the right to propose the light that dissipates all darkness […] How can [that light] be confined to the purely private sphere?” In this homily, Benedict XVI forcefully maintained that “this is why we need to hear God once again under the skies of Europe.” “Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear, and work with his grace for that human dignity which was discerned by her best traditions: not only the biblical, at the basis of this order, but also the classical, the medieval and the modern, the matrix from which the great philosophical, literary, cultural and social masterpieces of Europe were born. The Europe of science and technology, the Europe of civilization and culture, must be at the same time a Europe open to transcendence and fraternity with other continents, and open to the living and true God, starting with the living and true man,” the pope reiterated.

Benedict XVI, with 8,000 enthusiastic Catholics in attendance, also wanted to warn mankind about “the threats to [its] dignity resulting from the privation of [its] essential values and richness, and the marginalization and death visited upon the weakest and the poorest.”

Barcelona, the Consecration of the Church of la Sagrada Familia

On November 7, in Barcelona, during the consecration of the church of la Sagrada Familia, Benedict XVI called upon the State to protect, help and support the family.  In a Spain that only last February passed a law liberalizing still more the practice of abortion, and in which homosexual marriage is allowed, the Pope reaffirmed that the Church is opposed to any form of negation of human life and supports “what promotes the natural order in the familial institution”, thus condemning at the same time abortion, euthanasia and homosexual marriage.

Benedict XVI called upon the State to take the appropriate economic and social measures to sustain the family resolutely, in order that “women may be able to fulfill themselves at home and at work”, but also in order that “the man and woman who are united in marriage and form a family may be resolutely supported by the State”.  In the Pope's eyes, helping the family also makes for a defense of the life of children from the moment of their conception, as sacred and inviolable”.  The sovereign pontiff also expressed the wish that “the birthrate be stimulated, promoted and supported on the judicial, social and legislative levels”.  The faithful outside the church immediately applauded the Pope's words.  In his homily, Benedict XVI also declared that “technical, social and cultural” progress must “always be accompanied by moral progress, such as  attention to, protection of and help for the family”.

A little before the Mass, when the Pope's car passed by the cathedral, about a hundred homosexuals had organized a manifestation of collective kissing to protest against the coming of Benedict XVI.  During the Sunday Angelus, from the square just in front of the portal of the Nativity of la Sagrada Familia, the Holy Father again recalled “the dignity and essential value of marriage and the family, as representing the hope of humanity, in which life is welcomed from its conception to its natural end.”

The last stop on the Pope's journey was a visit to Nen Déu (the Child Jesus), a religious institution in charge of children, and sick and handicapped young people, a number of whom have Down's Syndrome.  On this occasion, he maintained in front of several young handicapped persons that, “for the Christian, every man is a true sanctuary of God.”  Consequently, every human being, he continued, “must be treated with the greatest respect and the greatest affection, especially when he is in need”.  He expressed the wish that “the new technological developments in the medical domain may never go against the respect for life and for human dignity, so that those who suffer from sickness or mental physical handicaps may always receive this love and attention that allow them to feel that they are recognized as persons in their concrete necessities”.  These words met with the applause of the care-takers, of the sick people and of their families.

Before leaving Spain, late in the afternoon of November 7, Benedict XVI hoped that the Christian faith may find a “new vigor” in Europe and become a “source of inspiration”.  The “will to preserve and to broaden this rich spiritual patrimony”, the Pope also declared, is “ a privileged way to transmit to the younger generations the fundamental values so necessary for the construction of a future in which life in common may be harmonious and solidary”.

In the general audience on November 10, three days after his return from Spain, Benedict XVI hoped that the Spanish might “always find in their Christian roots the encouragement to pursue the historical mission of the European continent in today's world”.  To the Pope's eyes, “conserving and reinforcing an openness to God, as a fertile dialogue between faith and reason, between politics and religion, between economy and ethics, will enable the construction of a Europe that, faithful to its indispensable Christian roots, will be able to answer fully its own vocation and mission in the world”.