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Pilgrim Pope challenges secular Spain

November 08, 2010

"I have come as a pilgrim in this Holy Year of Compostela,” said Pope Benedict XVI on the first major stop of a weekend visit to Spain.

The Holy Father arrived on Saturday in Santiago de Compostela, in the autonomous region of Galicia. At the famous church that contains the remains of St. James the Apostle, the Pope said that he was like so many other pilgrims who have made the traditional trip to the same shrine. The Pope reflected on the meaning of a pilgrimage:

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history,… To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where He has revealed Himself, where His grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.

In his homily during a Mass at Santiago de Compostela, Pope Benedict spoke about the illustrious religious history of Spain, gently contrasting the region’s great saints with the secularism that reigns today. That secularism stunts the growth of the human person, the Pontiff insisted. "Tragically, above all in 19th-century Europe, the conviction grew that God is somehow man's antagonist and an enemy of his freedom,” the Pope said. That attitude—and the companion idea that religion should be an exclusively private concern— leaves a gaping hole in men’s understanding, he argued: “How can what is most decisive in life be confined to the purely private sphere or banished to the shadows?”

In a powerful appeal to the people of Spain—and beyond, to all of Europe— the Pope called for a renewal of appreciation for faith and for the role that Christianity has played in building European civilization:

Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear, and work with his grace for that human dignity which was discerned by her best traditions: not only the biblical, at the basis of this order, but also the classical, the medieval and the modern, the matrix from which the great philosophical, literary, cultural and social masterpieces of Europe were born.

Pope Benedict went on to argue that a keen appreciation for the Christian heritage would not detract in any way from efforts to build a better society. On the contrary, he said:

Allow me here to point out the glory of man, and to indicate the threats to his dignity resulting from the privation of his essential values and richness, and the marginalization and death visited upon the weakest and the poorest. One cannot worship God without taking care of His sons and daughters; and man cannot be served without asking who his Father is and answering the question about Him. The Europe of science and technology, the Europe of civilization and culture, must be at the same time a Europe open to transcendence and fraternity with other continents, and open to the living and true God, starting with the living and true man. This is what the Church wishes to contribute to Europe: to be watchful for God and for man, based on the understanding of both which is offered to us in Jesus Christ.

On Sunday, the Pope visited another autonomous region of Spain, Catalonia, for the dedication of the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona. After touring the exterior of the building, he paid homage to “the man who was the soul and the artisan of this project, Antoni Gaudi: a creative architect and a practicing Christian who kept the torch of his faith alight to the end of his life, a life lived in dignity and absolute austerity.” Today, he said, Gaudi’s work “stands as a visible sign of the invisible God.” Speaking later to reporters, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that for Benedict XVI the ceremony in Barcelona had been “one of the most joyful moments in his life as Pope.” He explained that “the dedication a Church is one of the richest, most symbolic celebrations of the entire Catholic liturgy. The Pope was truly happy to celebrate such an important liturgy in this church, which expresses in such a unique way, the synthesis between art and faith.”

After the ceremony at the Sagrada Familia cathedral, the Pope visited a nearby institution for the care of poor children with special needs—mostly children with Downs Syndrome. There he spoke of the need for Christians to provide compassionate care for those in need. In a reference to the fact that many parents choose abortion when they learn that an unborn child has Downs Syndrome, the Pope said that “it is indispensable that new technological developments in the field of medicine never be to the detriment of respect for human life and dignity, so that those who suffer physical illnesses or handicaps can always receive that love and attention required.”

Later on Sunday, as he prepared to leave Spain for his return flight to Rome, the Pope returned to the theme that had dominated his trip: the call for a revival of Christianity throughout Europe. He said: “May this faith find new vigor on this continent and become a source of inspiration. May it give rise to an attitude of solidarity towards all, especially towards those communities and nations in greater need.”


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