Evangelization Is Aim of Shrines, Says Prelate

Urges Ministers to Help People Find God

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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain, SEPT. 30, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The main objective of pilgrimages to a shrine is evangelization, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò affirmed this in an address to the 2nd World Conference on the Pastoral Care of Pilgrimages and Shrines, which ended today in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

The prelate noted that the Church has come to realize this objective over the past decades, and so its understanding of shrines has changed from a devotional practice to an area of pastoral care. 

Archbishop Vegliò pointed out that «the moments of pilgrimage, because of the circumstances that motivate them, the places to which they go and their closeness to daily needs and joys, are a fertile field for the word of God to take root in hearts.»

«We have become more aware of this possibility over the last decades, in which we have passed from a devotional practice to a pastoral of pilgrimage, discovering that this moment becomes an occasion for the renewal of faith and also for a first evangelization,» he explained.

The prelate noted that «in Christ all our searching finds its answer.»

As with the disciples of Emmaus, he said, «the Risen One comes with us on our journeys, sharing our difficulties, our anxieties, our plans, our doubts and our joys, even if on so many occasions we are unable to recognize him.»

The archbishop referred to a message sent by Benedict XVI to the conference participants as a guideline for how to evangelize through pilgrimages and shrines.

Among other things, the Pope stressed the sense of the sacred in shrines, giving pilgrims access to the sacraments, and helping them to encounter God.


«The problem of religious indifference lies, often, in the fact that present-day man does not discover Christ as the answer to his life,» Archbishop Vegliò said.

«We propose answers to questions not always posed by the one we have before us,» he continued. "Hence, we offer a word of hope to a heart that, unfortunately, we often find asleep.»

Given this reality, the prelate highlighted «the great challenge of presenting the Good News of the Gospel in a meaningful way, to have the man of today see that the Christian message fully satisfies the human heart, that is answers his questions.»

«And in this task, the concrete realm of pilgrimages contains in itself a circumstance that must necessarily be taken into account in the evangelizing action,» he said.

The archbishop affirmed that «whoever goes on pilgrimage or visits a shrine, does so many times in singularly vital, particular circumstances of hope, of profound suffering, of joy, of failure, of thanksgiving,» and «many of these experiences are an open door to ask oneself the question, ‘Why?'»

«Moreover, if the visit to the shrine is preceded by a pilgrimage, the heart is much more disposed,» he added.

«For some who go on pilgrimage to shrines, this is the only vehicle that unites them to the ecclesial community,» Archbishop Vegliò noted.

Religious presence

He continued, «Moreover, an important way of evangelizing is through the religious presence in public places implied both in pilgrimages as well as other manifestations of popular religiosity, given that a lack of expressiveness implies an inestimable aid to the process of secularization.»

The prelate spoke about the care to be given on receiving pilgrims, which «is manifested in a variety of elements: from simple details to personal willingness to listen, including support while the presence lasts.»

He underlined «a hospitality offered by priests, religious and laymen characterized by the human quality, respect for personal processes, helping to respond to questions — or even sparking them.»

The archbishop urged his listeners to take advantage of every situation to «proclaim the Gospel» and «facilitate the encounter» that «will make possible growth in the faith of the Church.»

«Every pilgrim deserves our attention,» he said. «Insofar as possible, each must be received as an individual, in a personal way, as it is his happiness that might be at stake.»

Archbishop Vegliò encouraged his listeners to work «so that the pilgrimage and the shrine are really realms of the Word, of celebration, of charity, of ecclesial communion, of Eucharistic communion and of mission.»

In this way, he added, «the experience of the love of God, which in the celebration of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist find their highest expression, becomes the profound objective of the journey undertaken, while at the same time encouraging a return to ordinary life by being witnesses of Christ, who continues to accompany our steps.»

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Papal message to congress: http://zenit.org/article-30485?l=english

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