In the midst of the pandemic we are experiencing, with all your sincerity, joy and simplicity, you succeeded in setting into motion the hope of many people”. These words are more priceless than the “Compostela”, the document that certifies pilgrimages to the Tomb of the Apostle Saint James, because they came directly from the Pope. Francis wrote them in Spanish in a handwritten letter addressed to Alvaro Calvente, a 15-year-old boy with an intellectual disability from Malaga, Spain. In fact, despite his difficulties the youth recently followed the Camino de Santiago, departing from Sarria accompanied by his father, Ildefonso, and a family friend, Paco.
A witness of lived faith, which proved to be contagious, the pilgrimage offered a positive example to be imitated in these times in which there is a tendency to isolate due to Covid-19. Published on the website www.diocesismalaga.es, the Pope’s signed letter is a declaration of gratitude and encouragement. “Dear Alvaro”, the Pope wrote from the Casa Santa Marta on 20 July, “I received a letter from your father in which he told me that you finished the Camino de Santiago and that you carried in your backpack not only your intentions, but also those of many people who ‘joined you’ in your pilgrimage, asking you to pray”. For the 15-year old boy, it was a spiritual union that unfolded through encounters with people both “along the way” and “through social networks”, given that the journey was documented by his father on Twitter with the account @CaminodeAlvaro. At the same time, so as not to forget the poor, the pilgrimage served to launch a fundraising campaign in support of the Cottolengo (House of the Sacred Heart) of Malaga.
The seventh of ten siblings, the youth lives in the district of Huelin and along with his family belongs to the neocatechumenal community of San Patricio parish. “Thank you for encouraging us to walk and for inviting so many others to walk with you”, Francis continued, underscoring that in completing the pilgrimage Alvaro had moved many other people to set out on the path, by urging them “not to be afraid” and to rediscover the joy of being together. After all, the Pope noted, “along the way we never go it alone”, because “the Lord always walks beside us”. The Bishop of Rome concluded by thanking the Spanish youth “for his witness and his prayers”, and offering his blessing, an invocation to Our Lady of Carmel and his familiar request that Alvaro also pray for him.
The Camino de Santiago, or the “Way of Saint James”, is a large network of ancient pilgrimage routes which stretch across Europe and come together at the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region.