The pope and ‘El Gordo’

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — Spanish lottery lovers have seen a sign from God, well, specifically from Pope Benedict XVI, who is visiting their country today and tomorrow.

The famed Christmas lottery, called Loteria de Navidad, has the largest cash prize payout of all the lotteries in the world.

Its first prize is dubbed “El Gordo” because it is a “fat” chunk of money. Last year’s top prize gave out $4,200,000. There are hundreds of smaller cash winnings and the drawing on Dec. 22 every year can take hours.

As I was reading one of today’s local Galician newspapers, I saw a small article about how the main lottery outlet that sells the tickets was receiving a “multitude of requests by telephone and Internet” for the numbers 61110 and 71110.

Apparently a large number of people think the dates of the pope’s visit 6/11/10 and 7/11/10 (Europeans put the day first and the month second) are mighty auspicious and want to cash in.

I checked last year’s winning numbers and the closest winners were 61112 and 71104 — not too far off.

Loving service is key to happiness, pope says in Spain

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — When societies and governments are no longer at the loving service of all people, then arrogance and exploitation risk snuffing out true human development and fulfillment, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Only by loving and serving others like Jesus did, even with the simplest of gestures, will humanity regain a sense of happiness and hope, he said during an outdoor Mass celebrated in front of the 12th century cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Nov. 6.

Some 6,000 people filled the tiny square to capacity and 200,000 more were present in the small city, lining the streets and squares, according to local authorities. The cathedral bells tolled and pilgrims cheered and screamed “Viva el papa!”

The pope’s two-day visit to Spain brought him first to one of Catholicism’s most popular and ancient pilgrimage sites, Santiago de Compostela. His second and final stop on the trip was to Barcelona, where he was to consecrate the unfinished masterpiece of Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi, the Church of the Sagrada Familia.

On the four occasions the pope spoke Nov. 6, including to journalists aboard the papal flight from Rome, he underlined that society needs to embrace the transcendent values of religion.

For the past century, a growing belief has taken hold of Europe suggesting that God is an “antagonist and enemy” of human freedom, he said in his homily in the Plaza del Obradoiro at Compostela.

As a result, he said, human dignity is threatened because it has been stripped of its “essential values and riches” and “the weakest and poorest” in the world are marginalized and left to die.

Even Jesus knew that when the rulers of nations no longer serve the best interests of others, “there arise forms of arrogance and exploitation that leave no room for an authentic integral human promotion,” the pope said.

Christians cannot remain silent and must be “clear and valiant witness” to the Gospel, the pope said.

Yet while “we need to hear God once again under the skies of Europe,” his word must be spoken with holiness and with no ulterior motives other than to reveal God’s message of truth, the pope said.

God’s word also cannot be spoken authentically without concretely loving and serving others in all aspects of one’s daily life, he said.

The pope came as a pilgrim to a city with which he shares a symbol, the scallop shell of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the Way of St. James. The pope’s coat of arms carries the pilgrim shell as a sign of the pope’s desire to carry out the pilgrim mission of journeying in search of the truth.

To go on pilgrimage “really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God” and to open oneself up to his grace and experience conversion, he said in remarks earlier in the day inside the city’s cathedral.

The pope came to commemorate the holy year of St. James, which occurs every time the feast of St. James — July 25 — falls on a Sunday.

He took part in some of the traditional pilgrim rituals such as kneeling in prayer in the small crypt housing the apostle’s tomb, walking through the holy door and admiring the immense stone and silver-plated statue of St. James that most pilgrims embrace.

The pope also lit a large silver incense burner, called a “botafumeiro” in Galician. Nine men pulled on thick ropes attached to a pulley that made the large burner swing across the church at impressive speed.

In his talk at the cathedral, the pope emphasized that the church wants to be at the service of the human person and that in order to do that it must declare what it true, just and good.

Thousands of people, including many families, lined the six-mile route from the airport to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Many were waving small yellow and white Vatican City flags and blue and white flags representing the autonomous region of Galicia. Giant salvos of confetti were shot over the popemobile as it cruised along the main road.

The city’s excitement in welcoming the pope as a fellow pilgrim was evident as city-sponsored banners celebrated “Camino do Papa” — the Way of the Pope. People greeting the pope at the cathedral wrapped a brown pilgrim’s cloak around him.

At at airport ceremony earlier, after the pope’s plane safely landed in dense fog, he was greeted by the Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of the Asturias, Spanish cardinals and bishops, and government authorities from the local, regional and national level.

Pope Benedict said in his welcoming speech that he came to Spain “to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith.”

He said that in Barcelona he hoped to nourish the faith that for centuries nurtured countless institutions and organizations dedicated to charity, culture and education.

Human progress and development requires not just fostering people’s material wellbeing, but also upholding and protecting their moral, spiritual and social needs, he said.

On plane to Spain, pope talks about art and faith

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO SPAIN — Without the desire for truth and the search for the transcendent, art and individuals’ lives are incomplete, Pope Benedict XVI said at the start of a two-day journey to the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela and the cultural beauty of Barcelona.

When he consecrates the still incomplete architectural and artistic wonder of Barcelona’s Church of the Sagrada Familia Nov. 7, the pope will also highlight the importance of the Holy Family as a model for today’s families.

“God had his son born in a family and he calls us to build” and support the family, which is the basic and most fundamental cell of society, he said Nov. 6 in response to journalists’ questions aboard the papal plane.

The church dedicated to the Holy Family brings to light “the problem of the family and the (need for the) renewal of the family,” which are major concerns still today, he said.

The Holy Family of Nazareth “shows us where we can go both in building society” and in reuniting faith and religion with society, he said.

The pope said the church of the Sagrada Familia, designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi and begun in 1882, is a splendid example of the natural synthesis of tradition and novelty as well as of faith and art.

Humanity’s search for truth and beauty finds its expression in art, he said. “We need beauty,” he said.

For centuries the church served as “the mother of art,” generating countless paintings, musical compositions, and other priceless works handed down to generations today, he said.

But today there is “a certain dissonance” between the world of art and religion, he said, and “this hurts both art and faith.”

Art that is no longer rooted in the transcendent “would be an art that is incomplete,” he said.

Art and faith need to be brought back together again and be in dialogue, he said, because truth is expressed in beauty and in beauty one finds the truth.

“Therefore, where there is truth, beauty must emerge,” he said.

Civil society also needs to be open to the transcendent and Christian values, he said.

In Spain, he said, the trend toward “anticlericalism and secularism” was especially marked in the 1930s, which created “a clash between society and faith that also exists today.”

He said faith and society must come together, not be wedged apart.

Pope Benedict said a major theme of the trip is that of pilgrimage, which he said was an important element of his life and pontificate. His coat of arms details the shell which symbolizes the pilgrim’s journey to Santiago de Compostela, where tradition holds St. James the Greater is buried.

Life is both an inner journey of deepening one’s faith every day and an outward search for God in other people, he said.

When embarking on an actual pilgrimage to another place, “one transcends oneself, transcends the everyday world and in that way one also finds a new freedom,” he said.

Through pilgrimage, one discovers an inner peace and in making the journey with others, discovers the common bond that unites all humanity and learns to see God in the face of the other, he said.