ROME — Bishop Julián Barrio Barrio of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, said he is still holding on to the hope that Pope Francis will be able to visit his diocese to celebrate the Holy Year, also known as the Jacobean Year.
Speaking with journalists Dec. 16, Barrio, who was among a group of bishops in Rome on their “ad limina ” visits, said that while he believes “the pope is interested in coming to Santiago,” it does not mean a potential visit “can be 100 percent fulfilled” due to the restrictions and limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this sense, I must say I have all the hope, but it depends on many circumstances,” he said. “We must recognize that there are many factors that must be taken into account.”
The Holy Year is celebrated in Compostela in years when the July 25 feast of the apostle falls on a Sunday. This Holy Year will conclude Dec. 31, 2022. The most recent Holy Year was observed in 2010.
For centuries, pilgrims have traveled along the famed Camino de Santiago, a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James the Great.
Barrio said that during the two-hour meeting with the Spanish bishops, Pope Francis asked him, “How is the Holy Year going? How is the pandemic influencing the celebration of the Holy Year?”
“And with simplicity and humility, I told him, ‘Your Holiness, it is going much better than expected,'” the bishop said.
Although the first months of the Holy Year were “a little deserted, as far as the presence of pilgrims is concerned,” Barrio told journalists that between the months of June and October, an estimated 163,000 pilgrims visited Compostela.
“It is a very significant number,” the bishop said. “This means the Camino de Santiago is indeed a reality of encounter.”
While the majority of pilgrims were from other dioceses in Spain, Barrio said pilgrims from Italy, Poland and France also visited.
Nevertheless, Barrio said he hopes that next year, Pope Francis will be among the many pilgrims that will make their way to venerate the tomb of St. James.
“At the end (of the meeting), when I said goodbye, I told him, ‘Your Holiness, we are waiting for you,'” the bishop said.
In an interview broadcast in September with COPE, the radio station owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference, Pope Francis said he had spoken to the president of the Xunta de Galicia, the government authority of the region where Compostela is located, about a possible visit and told him he “would think about the matter.”
However, the pope said that when it comes to papal visits, he prefers going to “small countries” and that in instances when he visited more prominent European countries, like his 2014 visit to Strasbourg, France, it would only be a one-day trip.
“I went to Strasbourg, but I did not go to France. I went to Strasbourg because of the EU. And if I go to Santiago (de Compostela), I will go to Santiago (de Compostela) but not to Spain, let’s be clear,” he said.