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The Original Way - A Journey to Santiago de Compostela

By Michael Gorre

 

From time immemorial, men have made pilgrimages. Every year, for example, the Holy Family made the 100-mile pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

For two thousand years, Catholics have journeyed to the Holy Land to see and touch the very places where Our Lord Jesus Christ shed His most precious Blood for our salvation. Pilgrimages reached their height during the Middle Ages when millions left their homes to venerate holy relics in cities such as Cologne, Canterbury and Rome.

The Crusades were combative pilgrimages to free the Holy Land from the Muslims who persecuted pilgrims.

One pilgrimage site that still holds a special place in the hearts of Catholics is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, the burial place of the Apostle Saint James the Greater. The evangelizer of the Iberian Peninsula, he planted the seeds of Faith in countries that would become bastions of Catholicism.

 

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In 44 A.D., Saint James became the first of the Apostles to be martyred when Herod Agrippa ordered his beheading in Jerusalem. The apostle’s disciples took his remains back to northwest Spain, where after some time their exact location was lost.

Map - 230 miles from Oviedo to Santiago de CompostelaIn the year 813 A.D., Bishop Theodemir of Iria Flavia in Galicia informed King Alfonso II of Asturias that Saint James’ body had been found.

A hermit named Pelayo saw a dazzling star over a field—thus, the name “Compostela” which means “field of the star.”

Upon inspection, the field yielded the long-lost remains of the apostle. Hearing the good news, the pious King Alfonso, known as “the Chaste” because of his exemplary purity, became the first pilgrim to the site of the holy apostle’s tomb and ordered the first church to be built over it.

Since then, countless pilgrims have journeyed to Santiago de Compostela to ask for Saint James’ intercession.

 

The Cathedral of Oviedo

Water Jar from the Wedding at CanaAlong with two good friends and fellow TFP members, Peter Shibler and Kenneth Murphy, I had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of King Alfonso the Chaste by walking the 200-mile pilgrimage known as the “Camino Primitivo” (the Original Way) from the Asturian capital of Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela from May 14 to 26, 2019. 

There is an ancient saying repeated especially by the inhabitants of Oviedo that “he who goes to Santiago but not San Salvador [Cathedral of Oviedo], visits the servant and not the Lord.”

When we entered the Cathedral of Oviedo, we understood the saying. It houses the Holy Sudarium, the cloth used to wipe Our Lord’s face when He was taken down from the Cross. The blood markings exactly match those on the Shroud of Turin.

Among other relics, the cathedral houses a sandal belonging to Saint Peter the Apostle, a piece of Saint John the Baptist’s skull, and the Cross of Victory held by Don Pelayo during the miraculous Battle of Covadonga.

In a niche next to the altar of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is one of the six water containers from the Marriage Feast of Cana that Our Lord used to change water into wine. To our amazement, the massive stone jar holds 26.4 gallons (100 liters), proof that Our Lord was not stingy in His miracles!

The ancient custom is that pilgrims touch the stone vessel with their staffs, which we did with care and veneration. We could not think of a better way to start our pilgrimage than to have first greeted Our Lord in Oviedo.

 

Why a Pilgrimage?

Descending the Hospitales RouteOnly about 4% of the total number of pilgrims who walk to Santiago de Compostela go on the Camino Primitivo. That is because, while not as lengthy as other caminos, it is the most mountainous and rugged of them all.

The extreme elevation changes make it difficult, having to climb up and down steep mountains and valleys day after day. The mountain paths can be very uneven and rocky, while the forest trails are quite muddy in the rain. Furthermore, towns with restaurants or grocery stores can sometimes be sparse.

One of the primary purposes of doing such an arduous pilgrimage should be to pray and do penance for one’s sins and for the sins of others. Our Lady of Fatima told Sister Lucy that many souls go to Hell because they have no one to pray for them. The act of doing penance is a special form of prayer that benefits our souls and the Communion of Saints.

We spent many hours praying rosaries for poor sinners and for various intentions, especially for the repose of deceased relatives and friends. We also prayed and made sacrifices in reparation for scandalous sins such as the “Drag Queen Story Hours” and for the sin of abortion.

One special intention we offered up was for all the “Rosary Rally Captains” of America Needs Fatima and for their continued success in praying the Holy Rosary in the public square.

We made an effort to treat this pilgrimage as a spiritual retreat. We would read parts of Saint Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. This pilgrimage was to be a renewal of our consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary as slaves of love.

To maintain the spirit of sacrifice, we established some rules for ourselves. For example, we pledged not to complain. Whether we were hungry, suffering from sore feet and blisters or encountered any practical inconveniences (no hot water, hard beds, etc.), we would not voice our complaints. If we had to tend to a legitimate need, we would just say “I need to fix something.” Comic relief came, however, whenever Mr. Murphy would blurt out, “My feet feel great!”

 

Navigating a muddy trail and resting by a marker 

Captivating Beauty

Perpetual Adoration at the Cathedral at LugoWith the hardships, came great benefits. We were privileged to be able to experience the ancient Catholic culture of Spain.

In the city of Lugo, for example, the Cathedral of Santa Maria has had the Blessed Sacrament perpetually exposed for over a thousand years in reparation for the Gnostic-Manichean heresy of Priscillianism which denied the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We felt goosebumps as we joined the daily Eucharistic Procession after the 8:00 p.m. Mass. All along the Camino, the many ancient chapels, churches and roadside crosses and shrines were evidence of a time when the majority of men put God at the center of their lives.

Though rugged, the nature of the Camino Primitivo has a captivating beauty. The ubiquitous wildflowers contrasted with the jagged rocks and lightened our spirits.

The grand panoramas of the mountainous regions were an invitation to meditation and contemplation. Sometimes the scenery was so beautiful that it was paradoxically painful, making us yearn for the Heavenly Home for which we are all made.

 

The Final Forty-Five

On the morning of May 25th, we were 45 miles away from Santiago de Compostela. After covering 155 miles in ten days, the Camino had fortified us physically and spiritually. We decided to do something more daring. We would walk the last 45 miles all day and through the night, stopping only for meals and short breaks.

Cross along the CaminoHour after hour passed interminably. Once darkness enveloped us, we used a headlamp to avoid stumbling on the uneven trail. We scanned constantly for the yellow scallop shell trail markers. As we walked in the dense eucalyptus forests, the only sounds we heard beyond the steady cadence of our steps was the sound of birds, startled by pilgrims walking in the night, and the distant barking of dogs.

At midnight, we prayed Saint Louis de Montfort’s Act of Consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary Most Holy. By 3:00 a.m., we climbed to the top of Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy) and beheld, three miles below us, the illuminated towers of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, sparkling like a diamond! Somehow we had pushed beyond our normal physical limits. Out of sheer exhaustion, we decided to take a nap on the ground behind a nearby chapel. At 6:00 a.m., we continued down the mountain to the cathedral.

It is difficult to convey what we felt as we entered the main square and gazed up at the cathedral spires. Joy, relief, exhaustion, gratitude, soreness and a profound peace all mixed together. Inside, we each gave the massive statue of Saint James the traditional pilgrim’s embrace. Then we descended to the tiny chapel that houses his remains to pray.

“Saint James, just as we successfully completed this pilgrimage, help us succeed in the Camino of Life. Help us persevere in face of adversities, through storms, mud, pain and exhaustion. Keep us on the straight and narrow path as we climb up and out of this valley of tears. Give us hope and confidence that, in the end, we will reach the Heavenly Cathedral to be with God, Our Lady and all the saints forever.”

 


 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 20, 2019

The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because it...

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November 20

 

The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because
it has God as its object; it is the most profitable for salvation,
because It gives us the Author of Grace;
it is the sweetest, because the Lord is Sweetness Itself.

Pope St. Pius X


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Edmund the Martyr

The barbarian leader, Ingvar, offered to let the King live o...

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St. Edmund the Martyr

Though only about fifteen years old when crowned in 855, Edmund showed himself a model ruler from the first, anxious to treat all with equal justice, and closing his ears to flatterers and untrustworthy informers. In his eagerness for prayer he retired for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton and learned the whole Psalter by heart, in order that he might afterwards recite it regularly.

In 870 Edmund bravely repulsed the two Danish chiefs, Hinguar and Hubba, who had invaded his dominions. However, they soon returned with overwhelming numbers, and pressed terms upon him which as a Christian he felt bound to refuse. In his desire to avert a fruitless massacre, he disbanded his troops and himself retired towards Framlingham; on the way he fell into the hands of the invaders. Having loaded the king with chains, his captors conducted him to Hinguar, whose impious demands he again rejected, declaring his religion dearer to him than his very life.

His martyrdom took place in 870 at Hoxne in Suffolk. After beating him with cudgels, the Danes tied him to a tree, and cruelly tore his flesh with whips. Throughout these tortures Edmund continued to call upon the name of Jesus, until at last, exasperated by his constancy, his enemies began to discharge arrows at him. This cruel sport was continued until his body had the appearance of a porcupine, when Hinguar commanded his head to be struck off.

From his first burial-place at Hoxne his relics were removed in the tenth century to Beodricsworth, since called Bury St. Edmunds, where arose the famous abbey of that name. His feast is observed November 20, and he is represented in Christian art with sword and arrow, the instruments of his torture.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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