Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his apostolic journey to Spain Nov. 10 during his general audience. He visited Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. He traveled to Santiago de Compostela as a pilgrim among pilgrims to venerate the remains of St. James the Greater.
The Holy Father urged Christians to follow the apostle’s example by embracing the Gospel that he preached and the mission that we, too, receive in baptism to bear witness to Christ each day and to strengthen society by our faithfulness to the wisdom and truth of the Gospel.
In Barcelona, he dedicated the Church of the Holy Family, the masterpiece of the architect Antoni Gaudí, a magnificent edifice that is a celebration of the eternal source of all beauty, made flesh in Jesus Christ, who summons all mankind to become within the Church a temple where God dwells.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to reflect with you on my apostolic journey to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona, which I had the pleasure of making last Saturday and Sunday. I went there in order to strengthen my brothers and sisters in the faith (see Luke 22:32).
I did so as a witness to the risen Christ, the one who sows hope that does not disappoint or deceive because it is rooted in God’s infinite love for all mankind.
Santiago de Compostela
My first stop was in Santiago. During the welcome ceremony, I was able to experience the deep affection of the people of Spain for the Successor of Peter. I was truly welcomed with great warmth and enthusiasm. During this Holy Year of Compostela, it was my desire to be a pilgrim among the very many pilgrims who travel to that famous shrine. I was able to visit the “House of the Apostle James the Greater,” who continues to remind those who arrive there in need of grace that God has come into the world in Christ in order to reconcile the world to him, that we might not suffer the consequences of our sins.
In the magnificent cathedral of Compostela, where I gave the traditional embrace to the image of the saint with deep sense of emotion, I pondered how this sign of hospitality and friendship is also a way of expressing our adherence to his word and participation in his mission.
It is truly a show of our willingness to conform our lives to the apostolic message, which, on one hand, urges us to be faithful guardians of the good news that the apostles have handed down to us, without yielding to the temptation to alter it, minimize it or bend it to other interests, and which, on the other hand, transforms each one of us into indefatigable heralds of faith in Christ, by our word and the witness of our life in all areas of society.
The Meaning of Pilgrimage
Seeing the large number of pilgrims present at the solemn holy Mass, over which I had the great joy of presiding while I was in Santiago, I reflected on what made so many people leave their daily affairs to make a journey of penance to Compostela — a journey that, at times, is long and tiring.
It is the desire to attain Christ’s light, for which they yearn in the depths of their heart, even if they are often unable to express it in words.
In moments of bewilderment, of questing and of difficulty, as well as out of a desire to strengthen their faith and to live in a more consistent manner, pilgrims to Compostela embark on a meaningful journey of conversion to Christ, who has taken on our weakness — the sin of mankind, the miseries of the world — and has borne it to a place where evil no longer has any power, where the light of goodness casts its rays on all things.
They are a people who walk in silence, from every part of the world, a people who rediscover the ancient medieval and Christian tradition of pilgrimage, passing through cities and towns that are permeated with the Catholic faith.
During that solemn Eucharist, in which the many faithful present participated intensely and devoutly, I fervently prayed that all those who go on pilgrimage to Santiago may receive the gift of becoming true witnesses to Christ, whom they have rediscovered at the crossroads of these roads — full of inspiration — that lead to Compostela.
I also prayed that those pilgrims who are following in the footsteps of numerous saints who have embarked on the “Camino de Santiago” throughout the centuries may continue to foster its true religious, spiritual and penitential meaning without yielding to banalities, distractions or passing trends.
That path, woven of roads that cut across vast lands and form a network throughout the Iberian Peninsula and Europe, has been and continues to be a meeting place for men and women from the most diverse cultures, united by their quest for faith and for the truth about themselves and inspired by a profound experience of sharing, fraternity and solidarity.
Indeed, it is faith in Christ that gives meaning to Compostela, an extraordinary place from a spiritual point of view, which continues to be a point of reference for the Europe of today with its new makeup and with its new outlook.
Preserving and strengthening openness to the transcendent — as well as a fruitful dialogue between faith and reason, between politics and religion, between the economy and ethics — will make it possible to build a Europe that is able to respond fully to its own vocation and mission in the world, while remaining faithful to its essential Christian roots.
Therefore, convinced of this continent’s immense potential and confident in its future of hope, I invited Europe to open itself even more to God in an effort to foster the prospect of an authentic, respectful and brotherly encounter with the people and the civilizations of other continents.
On Sunday I had the truly great joy of presiding over the dedication of the Church of the Holy Family, which I declared a minor basilica, in Barcelona.
In contemplating the grandeur and beauty of that building, which invites us to raise our gaze and our soul heavenward towards God, I recalled those great religious structures, like the medieval cathedrals, which have left a deep mark on the history and the landscape of the main cities of Europe. That splendid work — rich in religious symbolism, a web of beautiful and varying shapes, fascinating in the interplay between lights and colors — is like an immense sculpture in stone, the fruit of the profound faith, the spiritual sensitivity and the artistic talent of Antoni Gaudí.
It reminds us of heaven — the true sanctuary, the place of true worship — which Christ entered to stand in the presence of God on our behalf (see Hebrews 9:24).
In that beautiful temple, Gaudí, an architect of genius, was able to represent in a most admirable way the mystery of the Church, into which the faithful are incorporated through baptism as living stones for making a spiritual house (see 1 Peter 2:5).
The Church of the Holy Family was conceived and planned by Gaudí as a grandiose catechesis about Jesus Christ, as a canticle of praise to the Creator. In that building, which is truly overwhelming, he put his genius at the service of beauty. Indeed, its extraordinarily expressive and symbolic artistic forms and motifs, as well as its innovative architectural and sculptural techniques, evoke the supreme source of all beauty.
The famous architect considered this work as a mission in which his whole being was involved.
From the very moment he accepted the assignment to construct the church, his life was profoundly changed. He perceived a need to prepare himself spiritually in order to succeed in expressing the unfathomable mystery of God in material reality, and so he chose an intense lifestyle of prayer, fasting and poverty.
We might even say that, while Gaudí worked on building the temple, God was building within him a spiritual dwelling (see Ephesians 2:22), strengthening him in his faith and bringing him ever closer to intimacy with Christ.
Constantly seeking inspiration in nature — the work of the Creator — and devoting himself passionately to a knowledge of sacred Scripture and liturgy, he was able to construct in the heart of the city a building that was truly worthy of God and, therefore, worthy of man.
Service to the Needy
While I was in Barcelona, I also visited the Opera Nen Déu, a special education school that began more than 100 years ago and that is very closely associated to that archdiocese, where children and young people with disabilities are looked after in an atmosphere of professionalism and love. Their lives are precious in God’s eyes, and they invite us in an ongoing way to set aside our egoism.
While there, I was able to share in the joy and the profound and unconditional charity of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart, in the generous work of doctors, educators and so many other professionals and volunteers, who work with praiseworthy dedication in that institution.
I also blessed the first stone of a new residence that will be part of this work, where everything speaks of charity, of respect for the person and his dignity, of profound joy, because the value of every human being is in what he is and not just in what he does.
While I was in Barcelona, I prayed fervently for families, vital cells that are the hope of society and of the Church. I also remembered those who suffer, especially during these moments of serious economic difficulties. At the same time, my intention was for the young people — those who accompanied me throughout my visit to Santiago and Barcelona with their enthusiasm and joy — that they would discover the beauty, the value and commitment of marriage in which a man and a woman form a family and generously welcome life and accompany it from its conception until its natural end.
Everything that is done to support marriage and the family and to help people in need, all that increases the greatness of man and his inviolable dignity, contributes to making a more perfect society. In this regard, no effort is in vain.
An Unforgettable Journey
Dear friends, I thank God for the powerful time I spent in Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. I would like to express once again my gratitude to the king and queen of Spain, to the prince and princess of Asturias and to all civil authorities.
I turn my grateful and affectionate thoughts once again to my dear fellow archbishops of those two particular churches and to their co-workers, as well as to all those who gave so generously of themselves so that my visit to those two wonderful cities would be fruitful. They were unforgettable days, which will remain etched in my heart!
The two Eucharistic celebrations that the faithful carefully prepared and lived out in an intense way, as well as the songs from both the Church’s great musical tradition and from the genius of modern musicians, were moments of true inner joy.
May God reward them all, as only he knows how! May the most holy Mother of God and the apostle St. James continue to accompany them on their way with their support!
Next year, God willing, I will go to Spain again for World Youth Day in Madrid. Therefore, I entrust this providential initiative to your prayer so that it may be the occasion of growth in the faith for many young people.