Pope says pilgrimage not just for the view

6th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday pilgrimages are not just for the view as he visited Santiago de Compostela, a major draw for tourists.

"To go on a pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history," said the 83-year-old pontiff, fighting to re-establish the Church's beliefs at the heart of Europe.

"To go on a 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 splendour."

Draped in a white cossack, scarlet cape and a stole, the pope spoke in Santiago's sprawling 12th century cathedral and was repeatedly interrupted by applause and chanting of "Viva el Papa! (long live the pope)" by the congregation.

The pope is starting his two-day visit to Spain in Santiago de Compostela and will travel in the evening to Barcelona where on Sunday he will sanctify the Sagrada Famila church.

His visit to Santiago falls on a Holy Year, which is whenever July 25, the feast day of Saint James, falls on a Sunday, and as such is particularly popular for pilgrims taking the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route.

Already this year, some 260,000 people have come -- a record in modern times -- but an increasing number of them are tourists walking or cycling the route for the scenery rather than religion.

The pope's visit is expected to spark a further surge of visits to this medieval city, as did trips to Santiago by the late Pope John Paul II in 1982 and 1989.

According to Father Jenaro Cebrian Franco, who has run Santiago's pilgrimage centre for the past six years, Benedict's "initial reason" for visiting Spain this year was to pray at the tomb of Saint James in the Holy Year.

The pope recalled that the three holiest Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites were Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela.

He prayed silently and alone Saturday in the brilliantly decorated room holding the tomb of Saint James in the cathedral crypt before walking around a painted statue of the first century saint clutching a staff, which has drawn pilgrims since the Middle Ages.

The remains of Saint James, later to be known as the Slayer of the Moors, were discovered by a hermit in 813 and became a symbol to rally Christian Spain, then pinned down by the Muslim Moors to the northern strip of the peninsula.

© 2010 AFP

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