St. Augustine, Fla., celebration unites cultures, continents and launches Camino de la Unidad

By Jessica Larson
AUGUSTINE, Fla. (OSV News) – The newly unveiled sculpture of the Apostle Santiago at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in the heart of downtown St. Augustine is a tangible link to its counterpart at the entrance of the Santiago Cathedral in Spain.

Placement of the statue came on the feast of St. James (Santiago), July 25, during an event marking the convergence of spiritual connections between cultures and continents. It included the opening ceremony of Camino de la Unidad, a network of pilgrimage routes in the Americas.

The evening commenced with a solemn procession, as the revered statue of St. James was carried from the Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish-built masonry fort dating to the late 1600s, to its new home in the cathedral basilica a few blocks away.

Pilgrims join in a procession in downtown St. Augustine, Fla., taking a statute of St. James (the Apostle Santiago) from the Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish-built masonry fort dating to the late 1600s, to its new home in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine a few blocks away July 25, 2023. (OSV News photo/Brandon Forschino, St. Augustine Catholic)

The statue, crafted by the skilled hands of Juan Vega, is fashioned after one found at Spain’s
Santiago Cathedral. It returned with a local Florida delegation that visited Spain in 2022 to solidify St. Augustine’s connection to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (the Way of St. James) and will reside permanently in the west courtyard of the cathedral basilica.

Jesus counted St. James among his three closest apostles, and he earned the title of Apostle of Spain for his unwavering evangelical zeal and his missionary endeavors in A.D. 40. After he was martyred in A.D. 44, his remains were laid to rest in the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, the destination of the renowned Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.

The newly unveiled sculpture of the Apostle Santiago in St. Augustine invites pilgrims and visitors alike to embark on a spiritual journey, embracing the values and teachings of the Camino de Santiago. Its presence in St. Augustine is a powerful symbol of harmony and continuity, bridging the spiritual connection between the Camino in Spain and its expansion to the Americas through the Camino de la Unidad.

The Camino de Santiago in Spain draws pilgrims from diverse backgrounds, and it is hoped that St. Augustine will soon become another cherished destination for spiritual seekers from around the world.

During the celebration of evening Mass July 25, Deacon Mike Elison highlighted the diverse motivations of those who undertake the Camino de Santiago. Whether mourning the loss of a loved one, seeking direction at a crossroads in life, pursuing adventure and meaningful connections or simply yearning for solitude with God, the Camino can be a transformative experience.

In his homily, Deacon Elison urged attendees to step out of their comfort zones, carrying with them only what truly matters.

The deacon shared 10 life lessons gleaned from the Camino experience, and one in particular – “Pack light and throw stuff out” – resonated deeply with Timothy Johnson, who was part of the Florida delegation that went to Spain in 2022.

Johnson, who is the Craig and Audrey Thorn distinguished professor of religion at Flagler College in St. Augustine, was among representatives of St. Augustine’s academic, cultural, historical, government and religious sectors that took the trip to solidify their membership in the Alliance of Cathedrals and strengthen the city’s connection to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

According to the St. Augustine diocesan website, the alliance “is an association formed by historic and culturally rich cathedrals from different parts of the world. Its main objective is to strengthen the importance of these cathedrals as tourist destinations and as centers of spirituality and culture, enriching the experience of visitors and promoting intercultural understanding and dialogue.”

Johnson told the St. Augustine Catholic, the diocesan magazine, he was delighted to see the project come full circle.

During the Mass, Father John Tetlow, pastor and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, officially signed the proclamation joining the Alliance of Cathedrals. The alliance is dedicated to promoting faith, research, knowledge exchange and cooperation in areas such as theology, sociology, heritage conservation, cultural and religious tourism promotion, and the organization of joint events and activities.

The cathedral basilica, a founding member of the alliance, now officially becomes the anchor for the new Camino de la Unidad network of pilgrimage routes in the Americas, offering another way for people to experience the transformative power of pilgrimages.

Father Tetlow also unveiled the new stamp for the local Camino, which will serve as an official record of a pilgrim’s “Certificate of Distance.” This certificate, issued by the Chapter of the Cathedral of Santiago, certifies the number of kilometers pilgrims have traveled, provided they have covered at least 100 km (about 62 miles) on foot.

(Jessica Larson writes for the St. Augustine Catholic, magazine of the Diocese of St. Augustine.
NOTES: For more information about the Camino de la Unidad or Camino is the Way, visit A video of the July 25 feast day celebration can be found here: