Church is the 'embrace of God,' pilgrim Pope tells Spaniards

Church is the 'embrace of God,' pilgrim Pope tells Spaniards

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


Pope Benedict XVI spoke of transformation through the love of God as he visited one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites of Europe. He noted that the Catholic Church is the place where that love can be spread.

The Pontiff was greeted warmly by the Spanish faithful who lined most of the more than six mile route from the airport to the Santiago de Compostela city center. Reaching the city's monumental cathedral, the destination of thousands of pilgrimages every year, he completed the "rite of the pilgrim" himself.

Wearing a traditional black cloak adorned with scallop shell symbol of St. James on one side and the red cross of the Spanish Order of Santiago on the other, he entered through the Holy Door, embraced the statue of St. James and prayed at the apostle's tomb below the altar.

The opening of the door is reserved only for years in which the July 25 feast of St. James, patron and protector of Spain, is celebrated on a Sunday. A Holy Year is declared in such cases and the number of pilgrims to the ever popular site spike. Many travel hundreds of miles on foot to reach St. James’ tomb.

In a brief greeting to those gathered within the cathedral and the thousands participating via television screens outside, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the “way of the pilgrim” not just as a visit for admiration of nature, art or history but a way to "step out of ourselves in order to encounter God."

As a pilgrim himself, the Pope said that he was visiting the city during the jubilee year to confirm Catholics in their faith, give them hope and entrust their "aspirations, struggles and labors in service of the Gospel" to the intercession of St. James.

He said that while he embraced the apostle's statue after entering he prayed for "all the children of the Church." Through faith and the mystery of love present in the Trinity, he observed, all people are "embraced by God,” and “transformed by his love.

"The Church," he continued, "is this embrace of God, in which men and women learn also to embrace their brothers and sisters and to discover in them the divine image and likeness which constitutes the deepest truth of their existence, and which is the origin of genuine freedom."

He exhorted of Spain's faithful to "live their lives enlightened by the truth of Christ, confessing the faith with joy, consistency and simplicity, at home, at work and in their commitment as citizens

"May the joy of knowing that you are God’s beloved children bring you to an ever deeper love for the Church and to cooperate with her in her work of leading all men and women to Christ," he said.

After inviting prayers for new vocations and expressing appreciation for the charitable work of Spanish institutions, he closed with a prayer in the local language asking God to grant all Spaniards "the boldness which Saint James showed in bearing witness to the Risen Christ.

"In this way," he concluded, "may you remain faithful in the ways of holiness and spend yourselves for the glory of God and the good of our brothers and sisters in greatest need."

The Pope's words were met with shouts of "Viva!", a typical Spanish and Italian exclamation to say "Long live the Pope!" Before leaving the cathedral to have lunch at the archbishop's residence, he filled the cathedral's 110-pound incense-burning thurible with incense. Eight technicians raised it up and sent it swinging through the cathedral hall, a traditional act to close the morning's historic events.

To read the full text of the Pope’s message, click here: