By Inma Alvarez
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain, NOV. 5, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The bishop of Santiago de Compostela said that the people of his diocese are fasting today, and giving alms to charity, in preparation for Benedict XVI’s visit.
ZENIT spoke with Archbishop Julián Barrio about plans for the Pope’s visit to his city on Saturday.
The prelate said that the Pontiff’s arrival in his diocese is also a special moment, which he awaits “with joy,” and for which he has invited the faithful to pray and fast, convinced that it will bring “great spiritual fruits.”
ZENIT: What does the Pope’s visit to Santiago de Compostela mean for you, the first of a Pontiff since you have been archbishop?
Archbishop Barrio: Sincere gratitude and well-founded hope because I’m certain that the spiritual and pastoral fruits of this pilgrimage will be very substantial. As archbishop, it’s a joy to receive and offer hospitality to the pilgrim par excellence of this Holy Year, which Pope Benedict XVI is.
Since he told us about his coming to this Church in Santiago de Compostela, we have supported him with our prayer, thanking God and being grateful also to the Pope for his availability and pastoral charity given that in the midst of so many preoccupations he has found a day to come to us.
For me as pastor of this particular Church it is very touching that the Successor of Peter, pilgrim of all the paths of the world, comes to meet with the Apostle James as a pilgrim.
Undoubtedly, from his presence in our Christian community, we can expect, above all, confirmation in the faith. We are allowed [to expect] this by Jesus’ own words to Simon Peter: “And you, confirm your brothers.”
ZENIT: Why is Santiago de Compostela so important for the Church and for Europe?
Archbishop Barrio: Santiago de Compostela, as an object of pilgrimage where the tomb of the Apostle James is venerated and where the Apostolic tradition which founds our faith, is no longer the finisterre [end of the earth] as it has become the end of infinite roads that arrive in this city of the Apostle from all the ends of the universe.
In a special way we are to make reference to the Church in Spain. The patronage of the Apostle in Spain dates back to distant times. This means that in a certain sense we can speak of Santiago de Compostela as “the ecclesial capital of Spain,” especially in the Compostelan Holy Years.
To speak of St. James the Greater is to speak of the faith of Spaniards. The historical and devotional figure of the Apostle, the pivotal point of Spain’s Christian articulation, is always our reference, regarding him as “promoter,” “column,” “defender,” and leader of our faith, terms that appear in liturgical, literary and popular texts and which have generated, over so many centuries, the Jacobeo tradition.
The apostolicity that Compostela summarizes is due to the evangelizing breath of the Apostle James, protomartyr among the Apostles. So it is that Santiago de Compostela shines still today as head of Christian Spain and even of the whole of the Hispanic world, opening his radius of influence above and beyond Spanish or Hispanic geography, as attested by the constant flow of pilgrims.
Keep in mind that Dante Alighieri put in writing that the pilgrimage to Santiago “is the most wonderful pilgrimage that a Christian can make before his death.”
However, in addition to this dimension of “Spanishness,” we must refer to “Europeanness.” Goethe himself dared to assert that “Europe was born on pilgrimage around the memory of St. James.”
It has now been 28 years, since November of 1982, that Pope John Paul II, in the cathedral of Compostela itself, lamented nobly and sorrowfully the crisis that was affecting Europe’s Christian conscience. In his words he exhorted and urged Europe to wake up, to renew its roots, to recover its genuine Christian identity.
Benedict XVI also knows very well the historical and present situation of Europe and knows what the Way of St. James has meant — the Jacobeo Pilgrimage and the Tomb of the Apostle James — in the making of European civilization.
In face of the vanishing Christian heritage and criteria, a reality that implies the loss of Christian theological and anthropological references, in Compostela we find the apostolic tradition thanks to the evangelizing breath of the Apostle James, “friend of the Lord.”
In this sense, the Jacobeo history and charism are a singular and accredited platform to strengthen us in that new evangelization that the Church awaits and proclaims.
ZENIT: This Compostelan jubilee has been the last in many years, after a series of successive jubilees. When the next one takes place, you will surely no longer be present. What would you like to have remain here for that time?
Archbishop Barrio: I thank God for having given me the providence to live and take part in four Jacobean Holy Years, one as auxiliary bishop and the other three as archbishop of this diocesan Church. Pastorally and spiritually it has been a very enriching experience for me.
I would like to see remain in so many pilgrims the evangelizing restlessness, the spirit of conversion and the commitment to return to their places of provenance, giving testimony of what they have seen, heard and lived, after having encountered the Lord, with others and with themselves, as the disciples of Emmaus did.
ZENIT: Since John Paul II’s famous visit in 1989, and up to now, what has changed for Santiago de Compostela? Has the number of pilgrims increased?
Archbishop Barrio: As I commented earlier, Santiago de Compostela has become a significant reference of pilgrimage within the sacred and historical triad made up also by Jerusalem and Rome. Evident is the marked increase of pilgrims, not foreseeable at that time. Today we can say that pilgrims come from the five continents.
The importance of the Jacobeo event was reflected when the Pope affimred that the particular Compostelan Church “by its immemorial connection with the Apostle James sinks its roots in the Gospel of Christ, offering this spiritual treasure to her children and to the pilgrims of Galicia, of other parts of Spain, of Europe and of the farthest corners of the world.”
ZENIT: Benedict XVI was very keen to come to Santiago de Compostela. Has he ever expressed this to you personally?
Archbishop Barrio: I had the opportunity to speak with him when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and subsequently, after he was elected Successor of Peter. On the various occasions when inviting him to come to Santiago de Compostela, he accepted with much benevolence.
I heard that in the past Jacobeo Holy Year of 2004, he planned to come to Santiago, but different circumstances did not make it possible for him to come on pilgrimage. Now the Lord is enabling him to realize this desire.
ZENIT: Will the Church in Galicia receive the Pope with joy? How is this visit being lived in the parishes?
Archbishop Barrio: I’m sure it will be like this. The city of the Apostle, the Compostelan diocese and Galicia await with joy the Pope’s pilgrimage. Many people will manifest this with their presence.
In our diocese, from the first moment we knew that the Pope would come to Santiago de Compostela, we have been supporting him especially with our prayer. There are many testimonies in this respect.
We have also tried to make this joyful event have repercussions in the diocesan pastoral programs. Materials were prepared that are helping in reflection and catechetical formation, geared toward children, young people and adults. With this same objective, both in the cathedral as well as in all the parishes, in the diocesan seminaries and in religious houses, a Eucharistic ceremony is being celebrated once a week.
In a pastoral letter I requested the faithful to pray the Holy
Rosary in the month of October, praying especially for the spiritual and pastoral fruits of this pilgrimage, and keeping very present the intentions of the Pope.
Moreover, and with the spirit of immediate spiritual preparation, I have expressed the desire that on Nov. 5 the faithful have a day of fasting, offering an economic contribution to the diocesan chapter of Caritas, so that with the funds collected aid can be given to the neediest persons.
In any case, the Church in Galicia awaits the Pope with gratitude and filial affection.