Is the Way of Saints James, known as the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, still important in 2023, when, to cite Dr. Laima Liucija Andrikiene, one of the chief underpinnings of the Way in Lithuania, robots clean our homes, robots mow the lawn near our homes, drones take care of the cows in the pastures, driverless cars drive in cities, surgeons perform the most complex operations and surgical interventions remotely? When encroaching artificial intelligence menaces our quintessence – souls?
Dr. L. A. Andrikiene, and the speakers and participants of international conference "The Way of St James” in Lithuania: the first decade" have a clear answer: YES!
The conference was dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the activities of the St James’ Way network in Lithuania.
The conference was opened by Algis Kaseta, mayor of Varena district municipality, and the Chairman of the Board of the Association of Municipalities of Lithuania’s Way of St James, who spoke not only of the spiritual aspect of it, but also the cultural and economic value it has created.
Kestutis Kevalas, the archbishop of Kaunas archdiocese, admitted in his speech that, for him, “it is extremely interesting to speak about something that is not very popular – faith.”
“As humans, we have not only a physical journey, but a spiritual one too. The pilgrimages reflect relationships among people and even nations. Namely journeying pilgrims bridged shaping European nations centuries ago, bringing light, knowledge and hope to them,” K. Kevalas underscored.
He praised and thanked L. L. Andrikiene, one of the cornerstones of the network of St James Way, who is attributed for the fulfilling of the idea of St James’ Way in Lithuania.
“Already 10 years we are discovering the spiritual wealth of the Way of St James, and Lithuania is very rich and able to offer a lot,” archbishop said.
The Association of the Friends of St James Way started its activities in 2013, while the Association of Municipalities of St James Way was established in May of 2016 and unites 27 municipalities now.
Rimantas Mikaitis, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Culture said that, with the Ministry’s conception and guidelines on cultural roads approved, he observes their expansion.
“Definitely, we are seeing an increase in the number of applications for receiving certificates enabling to foster cultural heritage through the formation of cultural roads. No doubt, the conference will give an impetus for that,” he emphasised.
Chairman of the Seimas Culture Committee, Professor Vytautas Juozapaitis noted that “most of the world speaks in the same name of God, but, when seeing the inconceivable atrocities in Ukraine (the conference took place before the attack on Israel, I wonder who misperceives him.”
“The Way of St James has expanded to a point, where the people do not fit on it. Now it is like a large square,” the MP underlined. He said he is “proud” that the way bore the St James Music Festival in Lithuania.
“It is also the means to communicate with the Highest, especially if you have to skip the Sunday masses,” V. Juozapaitis wisecracked.
L. L. Andrikiene admitted humbly that she is “a mere worker” of the Way of St James.”
“If someone had told me just a few years ago that we will have a book about it, expand the network significantly and reach out to many people interested in the way, I would not have believed,” L. L. Andrikiene said, vividly describing the age we are in and expressing a caveat: “We have the year of 2023. Robots clean our homes, robots mow the lawn near our homes, drones take care of the cows in the pastures; driverless cars drive in cities, surgeons perform the most complex operations and surgical interventions remotely. Robots live in our homes, in our kitchens, in our bedrooms, in our hospitals, in our fields, in our seas, in our forests, in our skies... Artificial intelligence is taking over more and more of our lives, and we worry that artificial intelligence will rule us, not the other way around. So, in the context, do we still need the Way of St James? Yes, we do! I am convinced that, with the elimination of the spirit and faith, no essence of what makes us humans will be left.”
“At least for the time being, today's man needs things that nourish and strengthen the spirit even more than before. Maybe that's why we notice that pilgrimage is going through a renaissance, that the young – not only the older and the old – need God, they need the Camino de Santiago, the Way of Saint James. The desire to understand and master new technologies is perfectly compatible with the desire to know the past, cultural heritage, to understand other peoples with whom we share the world; to get to know the world view, customs and traditions of people who look different and speak different languages, to understand how we are different and how we are similar. After all, the world has become so small, there must be enough space for all of us in it, we must learn to live and coexist in that shrunken world,” the former euro-parliamentarian went on to say.
According to her, what gives hope is the feeling that the Way of St James is increasingly discovered and flourishing.
“To me, encompassing the entire continent, it is the best manifestation of a whole Europe, of what holds us together as Europeans. It is the faith that unites, inspires and drives us forward on the joint spiritual journey, defending Christian values and doing good deeds,” L. L. Andrikiene said, adding that while developing St. James' Pilgrims' Way and its branch in Lithuania, the necessary synergy has been achieved.
“We work together– the Catholic Church, the Government, municipalities, universities, schools, non-governmental organizations, people from the press. We are collaborators in strengthening Lithuania and Europe, protecting their Christian roots and our way of life, defending Christian values. We are co-workers working for the common good. A better and fairer Europe is a shared responsibility of all of us. And St. James’ path is the path of all of us, that is, also the path of Lithuania,” L. l. Andrikiene said.
The other speakers included Rima Blikertiene, President of the Association of Friends of the Way of St James; Algirdas Vrubliauskas, President of the St James Way Association of Lithuanian Municipalities; Birute Nenortaite, Vice-president of the Lithuanian Association of Friends of the Way of St James; Jorge Martinez-Cava, St. President of the Federation of Associations of Friends of the Way of St. James; Rita Ana Dias, Vice-President of the Municipal Council of Vila Pouca de Aguiar, St. President of the Federation of the Way of St. James (Portugal); Marcin Drogorob and Beata Sawinska, both Members of the Technical Committee of the Federation of The Way of James; Iryna Sobko, Camino Podolico Project Manager, Vinnytsia City Council Marketing and Tourism Department (Ukraine); Matthew Chiang, a member of the Association of Friends of Pilgrims of the Way of St. James, a representative of Taiwan Camino (Taiwan); Dainius Varnas, Member of the Board of the Association of Friends of the Way of St James, both members of the Technical Committee of the St James’ Way Federation; Silvija Cizaite-Rudokiene, head of the Pilgrim Center in Siluva; Sandra Tamasauskienė, teacher at Silute Vydunas Gymnasium, member of the Silute District Self-Government Council; Julius Meskauskas, Sveksna pastor in the parish of St. James the Apostle, also Vice President of the Association of Friends of the Way of St James in Lithuania; Aidonas Uzubalis, member of the Moletai district municipal council.
Among the other distinguished participants of the conference were Alfredas Jomantas, member of the Board of the Extended Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe; Francisco Jose Millan Mon, Member of the European Parliament (Spain), member of the parliamentary group “European Cultural Heritage”, European Cultural Routes and chairman of the Way of St. James; Ildefonso de la Campa Montenegro, European St. President of the Federation of the Way of St. James (Spain); Manon Luijten, Marketing Director, Limburg Municipality (Netherlands); Dr. Valdas Kilpys, Member of the Board of the Association of Friends of Lithuania’s Way of St James.
The conference took place at the Church Heritage Museum / Archangel Conference and Art Center in Vilnius on October 6, 2023.