November 8, 2010

VATICAN CITY, 6 NOV 2010 (VIS) - This morning Benedict XVI began the nineteenth apostolic trip of his pontificate, which is taking him to two places of ancient Catholic tradition in Spain: Santiago de Compostela, traditionally associated with the practice of pilgrimages to the tomb of the Apostle James the Great and currently celebrating a Jubilee Year, and Barcelona where the Pope will consecrate the as-yet-unfinished church of the Sagrada Famila, 128 years after building work began.

Santiago de Compostela, the first stop on the Holy Father’s trip, owes its name to the Apostle St. James (Santiago in Spanish) and to the Latin phrase “campus stellae” (Compostela), a reference to the star which, according to tradition, indicated the site containing the remains of the Apostle who, following his martyrdom in Jerusalem, was miraculously transported to Spain. At the site of the discovery of the saint’s body, which took place in the year 823, King Alfonso II ordered a church to be built and entrusted it to the Benedictine monks, but in 997 it was destroyed by the Muslim troops of Almanzor. Rebuilt and transformed by King Bermudo II, it eventually became the third most important pilgrimage site after Jerusalem and Rome. In 1985 the city of Santiago de Compostela was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

The Pope departed from Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 8.30 a.m. and landed at Santiago de Compostela at 11.30 a.m., where he was welcomed at the steps of his aircraft by Their Royal Highnesses Felipe de Borbon y Borbon and Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, Prince and Princess of Asturias, and by Archbishop Julian Barrio Barrio of Santiago de Compostela.

The welcome ceremony took place at the airport’s southern terminal, inaugurated for this occasion, and was attended by authorities from the central government, the autonomous region of Galicia, and the town hall of Santiago, as well as by Spanish cardinals, the executive committee of the Spanish Episcopal Conference and several hundred faithful. After the playing of the national anthems and a speech by the Prince of Asturias, the Pope addressed some words to those present.

“I have come as a pilgrim in this Holy Year of Compostela and I bring in my heart the same love of Christ which led the Apostle Paul to embark upon his journeys, with a desire also to come to Spain. I wish to join the great host of men and women who down the centuries have come to Compostela from every corner of this peninsula, from throughout Europe and indeed the whole world, in order to kneel at the feet of St. James and be transformed by the witness of his faith. They, at every step and filled with hope, created a pathway of culture, prayer, mercy and conversion, which took shape in churches and hospitals, in inns, bridges and monasteries. In this way, Spain and Europe developed a spiritual physiognomy indelibly marked by the Gospel.

“Precisely as a herald and witness of the Gospel”, the Holy Father added, “I am also going to Barcelona, in order to nourish the faith of its welcoming and dynamic people. A faith sown already at the dawn of Christianity, one which blossomed and grew in the warmth of countless examples of holiness, giving rise to countless institutions of beneficence, culture and education. A faith which inspired the gifted architect Antoni Gaudi to undertake in that city, with the fervour and co-operation of many people, that marvel which is the church of the Sagrada Familia. It will fall happily to me to dedicate that church, which reflects all the grandeur of the human spirit in its openness to God.

“I am very pleased to be once again in Spain, which has given the world a constellation of great saints, founders and poets, like Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Jesus, John of the Cross, Francis Xavier, among many others; in the twentieth century it raised up new institutions, groups and communities of Christian life and apostolic activity and, in recent decades, it has advanced in harmony and unity, in freedom and peace, looking to the future with hope and responsibility. Moved by her rich patrimony of human and spiritual values, she seeks likewise to progress amid difficulties and to offer her solidarity to the international community”.

Benedict XVI continued his remarks: “These contributions and initiatives which have distinguished your long past, as well as the present, together with the significance of the two beautiful places I will visit on this occasion, lead me to look also to all the peoples of Spain and Europe. Like the Servant of God John Paul II, who from Compostela exhorted the old continent to give a new impulse to its Christian roots, I too wish to encourage Spain and Europe to build their present and to project their future on the basis of the authentic truth about man, on the basis of the freedom which respects this truth and never harms it, and on the basis of justice for all, beginning with the poorest and the most defenceless; a Spain and a Europe concerned not only with people’s material wants but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs, since all these are genuine requirements of our common humanity and only in this way can work be done effectively, integrally and fruitfully for man’s good”, the Pope concluded. He then completed his remarks with some words in Galician.

“Dear friends, I renew my thanks for your kind welcome and for your presence at this airport. I renew my affection and closeness to the beloved sons and daughters of Galicia, Catalonia and the other peoples of Spain. In commending my stay among you to the intercession of the Apostle St. James, I ask God to bestow his blessings on all of you. Thank you very much”.

Following the welcome ceremony, the Holy Father held a brief private meeting in the airport’s VIP room with the Prince and Princes of Asturias, before travelling by popemobile to the city of Santiago de Compostela.


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