By Andrea Kirk Assaf
ROME, NOV. 5, 2010 (Zenit.org).- On Saturday, Benedict XVI will follow in the footsteps of countless pilgrims before him when he ascends the steps to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The next day he will create a new place of pilgrimage in the country so well-trodden with the footprints of the faithful when he journeys to the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona, and consecrates the Church of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), and proclaims it a basilica.
By bridging Spain’s oldest place of pilgrimage with its newest, Benedict XVI is continuing his work of explaining and reviving the Church’s ancient traditions, revealing their timeless relevance for Christians, despite the mood or fashion of the age.
“In Spain, perhaps, there is a cliché that our country used to be very Catholic and now it is very atheist,” Monsignor Celso Morga Iruzubieta, the Spanish undersecretary of the Congregation for Clergy, told ZENIT. “I don’t believe either is true. The vast majority consider themselves to be Catholic; there is a minority who are not Catholic. Perhaps this thinking that God does not exist has occurred in the West as well. This thinking is brought on by materialism.”
Inspiration for the present
In the beginning years of the industrial age that ushered in this materialistic mentality Monsignor Iruzubieta refers to, a spiritual renewal occurred in the Spanish region of Catalonia. The architect who gave birth to the unique beauty of the Holy Family Church is one of the prime examples of this time, Antoni Gaudí, whose cause for beatification was opened by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes in 2000.
“The Church of the Holy Family is no accident,” Monsignor Iruzubieta explained. “It is a direct result of the holiness that took place in Catalonia in the second half of the 19th century.”
Another holy figure of the age was St. Joseph Manyanet, a priest whose support was instrumental in the construction of the Holy Family Church, and who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004.
“Both men were united by the message of the Holy Family [church] as a way of rediscovering their Christian roots and of bringing people back to the Church,” Monsignor Iruzubieta told ZENIT. “It was because of this that they decided to build the church.”
New Chapter in history
Benedict XVI, following in Gaudí and St. Manyanet’s footsteps, will bring the attention of the faithful in Catalonia and Spain to the elaborate temple to the Holy Family, first begun in 1886. By elevating it to the rank of basilica this weekend, Benedict XVI is giving the church a significant leap ahead in the slow progress it has made toward completion, now expected to take place in 2026, on the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
Why has Benedict chosen to personally oversee this historic consecration? Monsignor Iruzubieta has an idea: “It is very important for the Pope that, in these large cities and in the midst of our secularized civilization, there is room for large churches. Cathedrals are not something from the Middle Ages, but also important today.”[Reporting by Carmen Elena Villa]