Renewed Pastoral Program Urged for European Shrines

Conclusion of Congress of Rectors and Pilgrimage Directors

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KEVELAER, Germany, SEPT. 28, 2004 ( Directors of pilgrimages and rectors of shrines in Europe see a need for a new pastoral program to communicate the faith to pilgrims from very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.

The officials also said the growing interest of young people in pilgrimages to holy places, and the peculiarities of specific ethnic groups, call for new areas of commitment in the pastoral program.

These prospects for the future were discussed at the Kevelaer Shrine, in the Diocese of Mainz, during the 4th European Congress of Directors of Pilgrimages and Rectors of Shrines. The congress, which ended last Thursday, focused on the topic “Ecumenism of Holiness: Pilgrimage at the Beginning of the Third Millennium.”

Organized by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, the meeting gathered Catholic representatives of 21 European nations with delegates from Orthodox churches and evangelical and Lutheran denominations.

The congress — which opened with a message from John Paul II who expressed the hope for a “renewed commitment of holiness and fruitful path toward full Christian unity” — was an opportunity to address and reflect more profoundly on biblical, theological, pastoral and ecumenical aspects of the journey to holy places.

In his address, Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, stressed the ecumenical potential of pilgrimages as opportunities for meeting and learning from one another about history, piety, liturgical life and ecclesiastical discipline.

According to Bishop Farrell, “pilgrimages can be undertaken to ‘holy places’ and be an occasion of prayer especially for unity,” the Italian newspaper Avvenire quoted him as saying.

Moreover, pilgrimages can be nourished from the long experience in diverse ecclesial realities of the Continent, as pointed out by Father René Beaupère, who spoke about his experience as director of the St. Irenaeus Center, which has welcomed ecumenical pilgrimages for 50 years.

Another speaker was Bishop Georg Müller of the Norwegian Diocese of Trondheim, whose cathedral houses the tomb of St. Olaf Haraldson, the object of Lutheran and Catholic pilgrimages. Since 1950, the veneration of the saint has been celebrated jointly by both faiths.

Recalling last April’s European pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Monsignor Nöel Treanor, secretary-general of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, highlighted how “the presence of so many faithful, bishops and representatives of other Christian Churches had given testimony to the appeal for unity.”

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the organizing dicastery, hailed “the useful dialogue” that took place in the congress and expressed the hope that a similar meeting would be organized at the world level.

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