The Conventual Franciscan friars at the parish-hostel of San Nicolas de Flue in Ponferrada, Spain, are engaged in a mission of providing spiritual care and giving testimony of Franciscan life. They serve in the hostel’s chapel and reception facilities, in an atmosphere of hospitality and openness. The hostel project is sponsored by the Parish Basilica of Santa María de La Encina (St. Mary of the Oak).
Friars from various Provinces in the Order work with lay people called hospitaleros (hospitality volunteers) in order to offer hospitality and minister to pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago [Way of St. James]. The pilgrims come from all over the world representing diverse economic, linguistic, religious and personal origins. The friars demonstrate fraternal life in simplicity, prayer and work, as they work alongside priests from the Basilica of Santa María de La Encina. Mary is the patron saint of the region of El Bierzo, an agricultural and quarrying area in Spain’s province of León. The friars are carrying out this work in keeping with the Four-Year Plan of the Province of Our Lady of Monserrat in Spain and as part of the Six-Year Plan of the Order: “going forth and trying new ways of Franciscan evangelization” (cf. Six-Year Plan of the Order 2019-2025).
Because of the pandemic that has been affecting and threatening everyone since last winter, our eleventh season of presence in Ponferrada has been different. The number of pilgrims has decreased significantly this year. Strict health measures were put in place at the hostel and the friars could only be present in small numbers, at two different periods during August. The number of hospitality volunteers remained the same, four or five adults, so their hospitality service was able to continue and the pilgrims were well looked after.
The friars have been present on the Camino de Santiago for thirteen years, serving at pilgrimage centers other than the hostel. They have become a regular presence, and are loved at the Basilica and in Ponferrada. They collaborate well with the priests who offer year-round hospitality and with the laity who coordinate the various services. This arrangement has created a true Christian fraternity devoted to serving the people and ministering to them, in communion with the apostolic roots of the transmission of the faith in Spain and Europe.
2021 will be a Compostela Holy Year! The Conventual Franciscan Province of Spain is scheduling a meeting for all the friars who have participated in this hospitality project in recent years. These friars have come from all over the world, namely, Italy, Germany, France, Romania, Poland, Spain, the USA, Latin America, Kenya, Tanzania, South Korea and Indonesia. The meeting will take place in October of 2021, in Ponferrada, after the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. During the meeting, the friars will evaluate their years of presence on the Way. They will celebrate the Compostela Holy Year and better define the future of their presence at this European and world pilgrimage site.
Those invited to the meeting will soon receive complete information regarding the dates being scheduled.
Another activity during this event will be a visit to Villafranca del Bierzo, where the remains of St. Lawrence of Brindisi are venerated. The Poor Clares in charge of his tomb will invite the friars to pray in St. Lawrence’s chapel. St. Lawrence blazed many trails to foster socio-political reconciliation and proclaim the Gospel. Today, he still blazes missionary trails across the old continent.
It is impossible to accurately predict whether this project will be able to take place on the scheduled dates, given the precarious social and health situation. In any event, everything possible will be done to celebrate this jubilee together.
Friar Joaquín Ángel AGESTA CUEVAS