The summertime Conventual Franciscan presence in Ponferrada, Spain, has been celebrating the 2021 Compostela Holy Year.
The Conventual Franciscans began their humble, ecclesial presence in Ponferrada in 2007, in view of the 2010 Compostela Holy Year. The Holy Year was called in answer to repeated criticism about the lack of “fellow witnesses to the faith” along the Way of St. James. Since then participation in this interprovincial project has gone through several stages. Lately, there has been a decrease in pilgrims and friars due to the pandemic.
The friars of Germany, Padua and Spain were the original pioneers of this project, but in recent years, many other friars from Jurisdictions throughout the Order have participated as well. Currently, the mission is being managed more efficiently: we have defined what it is we offer and what our missionary style is. We understand the ecclesial context that supports this initiative. The Province of Our Lady of Montserrat in Spain has faithfully and singlehandedly kept this mission of evangelization going. Also, due to the pandemic, traveling has become an uncertain proposition for the friars. They used to be able to come as they pleased, in order to share in, and enrich, this centuries-old tradition. According to Galician historian Friar José GARCÍA ORO, OFM, the Order of Minors in medieval Europe largely ministered along the Way of St James pilgrimage routes.
People have always approached the Way of St. James with different motivations, and they have always come away impressed. However, there have been many changes in recent years. People are being asked to go further, to take the next step, and not to rest in self-indulgent repetitions, which have nothing to do with the vitality and itinerancy of the Gospel. An organization called the Acogida Cristiana en los Caminos de Santiago (ACC) [Christian Welcome along the Way of St. James], is committed to the Catholic denominational nature of the welcome centers along the Way. The ACC wants to set up “Christian refuges,” places where the fatigue and joy of faith is also expressed in rest, as opposed to municipal or private “hostels,” which serve pilgrims for financial gain. The friars are wondering if a permanent interprovincial fraternity, inserted into this Catholic denominational, rural and itinerant context, could be a sign of New Evangelization and regeneration of Franciscanism, perhaps even open to the entire Franciscan Family.
Is this just something for the friars? In reality, the “hospitaleros” (lay hospitality volunteers) are an extremely important element of the Way, not only because of their free and selfless work, but also, owing to the “itinerant spirituality” of their service, they can be integrated into a shared project. We are at a new pastoral crossroads of synodality, a plurality of vocations. This element is indispensable if the whole ecclesial mosaic is to reflect the beauty of the Christian vocation. Thinking of “solo” projects is now a thing of the past, the ecclesial situation in Europe does not allow for solitary ventures.
The 2021 Compostela Holy Year will continue throughout 2022, to commemorate the first jubilee privilege granted to the Shrine of St. James by Pope Callixtus II in 1122. The friars want to offer their ecclesial collaboration in order to make it an even greater time of grace. They are glad to be present in Ponferrada, despite these years of pandemic. Sacrifice, if lived out of love and for the benefit of others, is an unmistakable sign of the Gospel.
The last group of friars who served this year visited the Poor Clares of Villafranca del Bierzo (Spain), in whose church St. Lawrence of Brindisi is buried. They also got to meet with the Minister General of the Capuchin Franciscan Order, Friar Roberto GENUIN. Later, they visited the Friars Minor in O Cebreiro (Spain), where they were welcomed as true brothers. These incidents could be seen as a mustard seed (cf. Mt 17:20) growing towards a Franciscan inter-obediential fraternity, which could be of service to this mission on the Way of St. James.
The Jubilee will produce such fruits as the Holy Spirit wills. We must be attentive to perceive the signs of the times. It is through such signs that the Holy Spirit speaks to us and guides us back on the path. The official poster of the Jubilee says: “Come out of your land! The Apostle is waiting for you!” At the center of the poster, one sees the image of the Apostle James with a serene smile, welcoming those who do not give up, who want to continue on the path, because in these times, we are all called to be pilgrims.
Friar Joaquín Ángel AGESTA CUEVAS