A “lighthouse”

For the pilgrims arriving from all over Europe

The opening of the Holy Door in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on December 31st 2009 inaugurated the “Jacobean Holy Year 2010”. Pilgrims will arrive from across Europe to visit what is believed to be the tomb of the Apostle Saint James Major, which Pope Benedict XVI will also visit in November as “pilgrim of faith”. Tuesday March 9 the mayor of Santiago, Xosé A. Sánchez Bugallo, was a guest speaker in a meeting promoted by the Cervantes institute in Rome. The initiative lies within the framework of the European project launched by the Municipality of the Spanish city, part of the EU program “Citizens’ Europe”, focussed on the Camino de Santiago del Compostela “as the symbol of the union of European citizens since the Middle Ages”. The project “Major triangle, holy cities, world heritage” is designed to promote cooperation between the three Holy Christian Cities (Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago) to share tools and experiences and develop joint promotion.In the Middle Ages. “According to an ancient tradition, the Apostle Saint James Major preached the Gospel in Spain for many years. And later, his disciples secretly buried his body in the lands of Galicia. In 813 bishop Teodomiro found the relic”. The mayor explained how the cult of “Santiago” (after the contraction of Saint James) began: a Church was erected on the site of the sepulchre, and later a cathedral. A village was gradually built, which was bound to become “the spiritual lighthouse of the whole of Europe”. At the time, most of Spain was occupied by the Arabs and Saint James became the protector of the reconquest on the part of Christian sovereigns. “Pilgrims began to arrive from all over Europe; from Croatia, Sweden, Italy … The footsteps of the faithful traced the routes of the Camino de Santiago. The ‘Francigena’ way from Rome is an example”. The Camino de Compostela became a tool for the exchange of ideas, for the dissemination of the faith, for trade and cultural or artistic cooperation, Indeed, “it paved a route that structured Medieval Europe”. This phenomenon, the mayor told SIR Europe, “brought Westerns citizens to convene in common grounds, playing a fundamental role in the formation of a European conscience”.The Holy Year. In 1120 Pope Callistus II granted the city of Santiago the privilege of calling a “Holy Year” every time the feast of Saint James, celebrated July 25, falls on a Sunday, vouchsafing pilgrims with the grace of availing themselves of plenary indulgence. Since then, this recurrence occurred regularly every 6,5,6 and 11 years. The last Jacobean Year was 2004. After a decline in the 18th century, “a decisive thrust to the occurrence” was provided by the two visits of John Paul II, the first in the Jacobean Year 1982 and the second on the occasion of the 1989 WYD in Santiago de Compostela. These events, he said, “sowed the seeds that flourished in 1993”. In 1987 the Council of Europe labelled the Way of Santiago “the first European cultural itinerary”, while Unesco declared its Spanish and French roads “cultural world heritage”, in 1993 and 1998 respectively. Already in 1985 the “the old city” of Santiago had been declared cultural heritage. “In these years – the mayor of Santiago explained – the number of pilgrimages increased one-hundred fold giving rise to another phenomenon: the Compostela Way is no longer undertaken in the Jacobean year only but at all times, by millions of pilgrims. In 2009 (which was not a holy year) 150 thousand pilgrims followed the route by foot. The figures of the holy years 1971 or 1976, (less than one thousand pilgrims) give us the dimensions of the development”.A path of reconciliation. What leads so many faithful to undertake this itinerary of the spirit? The historical feature of the Camino de Santiago, said the mayor, “is not the quest for miracles, rather, pilgrims seek two complementary elements: forgiveness and peace. Not by chance this route, that in the past was linked to penal codes, was a emblem of reconciliation, notably with the spiritual realm, and also with society as a whole”. Another feature is “self-search: in contemporary society, marked by fast paces, the Way offers the possibility to find the time to reflect on the significance of our lives. This brings also the faithful of other religions or atheists to want to undertake this trip”. 2010 is the 119th Jacobean Year. “Several recurrences occur between this Holy Year and the next one, in 2021”, recalled the mayor, pointing out the eighth centenary of the consecration of the Cathedral in 2011 and the 1200th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of the apostle Saint James in 2013. “Certainly – he told SIR Europe – the Holy Father’s visit in November is a major event. For the city it will be a strong encouragement to experience this event with the best spiritual disposition”.

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