By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, MARCH 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The mayor of Santiago de Compostela in Spain is affirming that his city is enthusiastically preparing for the upcoming visit of Benedict XVI.
The Pope recently announced that he will be visiting that city in November. Mayor Xosé Sanchez Bugallo spoke with ZENIT while in Rome for a promotional trip to motivate pilgrims to visit the shrine of St. James during the Jacobeo Holy Year.
The mayor affirmed that his city received the news of the papal visit as “a great stimulus and support for this year.”
The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where, according to tradition, the remains of the Apostle James the Greater rest, celebrates the jubilee year every time the saint’s feast day, July 25, falls on a Sunday, as is the case this year.
The next jubilee year will be in 2021. This tradition has been observed since the year 1122.
Sanchez Bugallo said, “The jubilee has already begun; we opened the Holy Door of our cathedral last December 31 but we know that the high season will begin in Holy Week.”
He added that “the jubilee year always brings a greater influx of pilgrims.”
The mayor reported that a commission has been created to coordinate the efforts and cultural and religious activities with the archbishopric.
Between the 10th and 11th centuries pilgrim began to arrive in Santiago de Compostela along different pathways. The best known was the French trail, which arrives in Spain through Roncesvalles and Jaca and then passes through the lands of Navarre, Aragon, La Rioja, Castille and Leon cutting across Galicia and arriving in Santiago.
Hostels and hospitals were built on the trails for pilgrims. Thus the Way of St. James served as a means to propagate different artistic, economic and cultural currents such as the Romanesque and Gothic styles in architecture. The monks of different orders helped with the diffusion of this work.
In addition to the French path there is also the north way, which goes across the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias. Another pathway is the Portuguese route and still another starts in Seville and goes across Spain from south to north.
The mayor stated that in order to be “considered officially a pilgrim in Santiago de Compostela” a person must “fulfill a series of requirements, among them, a minimum of 100 kilometers [62 miles] on foot.”
During the 16th century the number of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela decreased notably.
Last century, in the 50s, some priests and laymen again reawakened this pilgrimage, and during the 70s and 80s the number of wayfarers increased.
In 1982 Pope John Paul II visited the city, and this event gave a new impulse to the Way of St. James.
In 1987 the way was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe.
Sanchez Bugallo recalled that in 1989 World Youth Day was held in Santiago de Compostela.
In 1993 an explosion of pilgrims began arriving to the city as the route became popular with people of other religions as well. The mayor explained: “Many people of other confessions have been incorporated: Evangelicals, also Buddhists and persons who have no defined confession but understand that the way is an opportunity to be reconciled and to reflect.”
Sanchez Bugallo said that in the 16th century some European countries gave prisoners the opportunity to serve their sentence by following the Way of St. James.
When the sentence was for a serious crime, the offender had to walk the route up to four times. In Belgium, he added, this possibility still exists.
“The Way of St. James has been linked with the concept of forgiveness, the way of peace where the pilgrim is subject to a thousand adventures and then arrives at his final goal,” explained the mayor.
“I have never known anyone who after following the way was disappointed,” he continued. “Instead, I have known thousands of people who have said that it is an unforgettable experience.”
Sanchez Bugallo said that the pilgrims will be rewarded by the sites of his city, with its “buildings and streets sculpted in stone; it is pure granite, there are 2,600 buildings, all made of stone.”
He concluded by encouraging pilgrims to “undertake part of the way or that they come, pass through the Holy Door and enjoy a spectacular city.”