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Doubting Thomas


I have travelled to the Holy Land and have seen the holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee. I have also found great spiritual consolation from visiting the places of the great saints: St. Peter in Rome, St. Mark in Venice, St. Thomas More in London, St. Benedict at Monte Casino, St. Francis in Assisi. I even met Mother Teresa (who asked me to pray for her!)

Santiago de Compostella poses a question for me.

There are grounds, however, to doubt whether St. James the Greater is truly buried there. As a Catholic, I am humbled by the life of the Apostle James the Greater and his work in the early church. Yet I question whether St. James ever made it to Spain. I was probably closer to the bones of St. James when I was in Jerusalem.

I am not necessarily troubled by the question of whether St. James' body actually lies at Santiago. The goal of devotion to the saints (dulia in Greek) is to better orient ourselves toward God. The saints are examples of discipleship, and they serve that function regardless of where their bones may actually reside.

The question arises as to what the "payoff" is at the end of the journey?

On one level, it is a journey motivated by faith and sustained by God's grace. At another, it is walking in the footsteps of the multitude of faithful who have treked to Santiago. May also be a pilgrimage to St. James, even if he does not actually respose there (a "spiritual communion" with the saint.)

While each person will find something different, I would be interested in hearing what your experience was when you arrived.
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At the risk of being dragged into a theological debate I am not seeking, I wanted to clarify one of the theological terms I mentioned above. If theology isn't your thing, feel free to skip over it.

Dulia is a theological term signifying the honour paid to the saints, (and hyperdulia refers to the veneration offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary). A separate term, latria describes worship given to God alone.

St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, X, ii, 1) distinguishes the two terms: "one which is due to men . . . which in Greek is called dulia; the other, latria, which is the service pertaining to the worship of God".

Catholic theologians insist that the difference is one of kind and not merely of degree; dulia and latria being as far apart as are the creature and the Creator.

A further distinction is made between dulia in the absolute sense, the honour paid to persons, and dulia in the relative sense, the honour paid to inanimate objects, such as images and relics. With regard to the saints, dulia includes veneration and invocation; the former being the honour paid directly to them, the latter having primarily in view the petitioner's advantage.

Here endeth the lesson.
According to the pilgrim office's page 'what is pilgrimage' http://www.archicompostela.org/Peregrinos/Inglés/peregrinconcep.htm 'To be a pilgrim is to journey to the Apostle's Tomb in Compostela with a Christian or at least religious motivation, that is to say, "pietatis causa".
. . . The motivation is - since it is a pilgrimage to St. James - to visit the tomb of one of the Apostles of Jesus.' However, if you question those en route or in Santiago, you'll probably find only a small minority are motivated by the tomb itself, and even devout RCs will admit to doubts on whether the relics are genuine.

The church is fully aware that people are motivated by a wide range of feelings (and quite a few who aren't at all sure why they're doing it). In his 1999 pastoral letter (the link isn't in the page quoted above; it's at http://www.archicompostela.org/web/igle ... al1999.htm ), point 42(!), the archbishop comments on those who "set off without specifically religious motives and travel the route through love of nature or for purely cultural reasons. The spiritual dynamic of the pilgrimage favours the quest for God and the response to His call. Many of those who start detached from any religious feeling experience on the Camino a profound meaning in something they had viewed as a mere pastime when they set off. We welcome them all with open arms . . ."

I've always found it striking that most people seem to get something out of it; I've yet to meet anyone who said it was all a waste of time and they should have stopped at home. (Though of course this is self-filtering, as those who do find it a waste of time will have given up long before they get to Santiago.) And I've also met quite a few who felt that St James helped them along the way, and who found some kind of fulfilment at the end.

Of course, if you're determined to be sceptical, few relics of any sort stand up to much close examination. What little documentation there is is generally based on some oral tradition written down long after the event by people with an obvious 'agenda'. There's precious little evidence, for example, that Peter ever even went to Rome, let alone died there. Did the remains of Mark end up in Venice, or those of Andrew in Scotland? Maybe, maybe not. Who can say? And the medieval obsession with relics led to obvious absurdities, such as the several heads of John the Baptist. Erasmus commented that there were enough 'pieces of the true cross' around to build an entire ship. Was Mary Magdalene in Vezelay or St Maximin, or did she never leave Palestine? Is the head of James in Santiago, or in the cathedral of St James in Jerusalem, or forgotten in some ditch somewhere? What you believe is likely to be based on what you want to believe - 'faith' - rather than because you are persuaded by the evidence.

Although the story of how James is supposed to have ended up in Galicia does stretch credulity, I actually find the idea that he went to Spain reasonably plausible. If you accept that the disciples spread out after the ascension (and it must be said there's not much evidence they did any such thing), surely at least one will have headed west across the Med, and if so why not James? For a Galilean the ports of Phoenicia were close by, so hitching a ride on a Phoenician vessel to a Phoenician port, such as Cartagena, as the tradition has it, also seems plausible to me.
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I think the question principally to asked of anyone on the camino is "what is your motivation?". One recent post stated that they had stayed at several hostals along the way but that in doing so they wern't really being a pilgrim. what does accommodation have to do with a pilgrimage? Why does where you sleep actually matter? Surely what matters is why you are on the camino. There seems to be a perception amongst some that you are not a real pilgrim unless you only stay in refugios and walk the whole distance. I would suggest that a person who has a strongly religious motivation for travelling to any such centre as santiago or lourdes or some such site and goes there by plane is more of a pilgrim than many who walk without such motivation. Sometimes I get the impression that some have a sense of superiority over others on the camino; walkers over cyclists.Or those who walk the via de la plata (1000kms) over the french way (less than 800kms), or carry less than others, have more blisters etc etc. Surely the pilgrims of old would not have declined any mode of transport they could have used or more comfortable accommodation. To them the goal was santiago.
When I see such statements as 'we are all pilgrims' I can only think that others have a much broader looser definition than I when the motivation may solely companionship or losing weight.
There seems to be a bit of the touchy feely new age rubbish that would have probably perplexed the earlier pilgrims.
My own belief is that we are all pilgrims. The walk to Santiago or Rome is just part of the journey.

I was speaking to Gerard Hughes this morning, a Jesuit priest, who walked to Rome in 1975. He is a religious man but he freely admitted that he started walking to Rome because he enjoyed walking. It did not start as a pilgrimage but became one. We both felt that whatever one's motivation at the start of a journey of that length, by the end it would probably have changed.

Whether the bones are there or not is immaterial to me it is the motive that matters and that can change as your journey progresses.

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