Shrine Directors Call for a "Ministry of Kindness"

Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines Publish Final Document

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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain, OCT. 29, 2010 ( The Second World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Pilgrimages and Shrines, held in Santiago de Compostela from September 27-30, ended with an invitation to the faithful to take up a «ministry of kindness.»

The meeting’s final document, which the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, the organizer of the congress, sent to ZENIT this Friday, states that this ministry «enables one to receive pilgrims with a spirit of openness and fraternity.»
The close to 250 persons from 70 countries who took part in the congress stressed that «this reception must keep in mind and respond, certainly, to the variety of motivations that drive pilgrims.»
In the opinion of the directors of shrines, one must take into account what is specific about each group and person that visits a shrine, as well as «the expectations of their hearts and their genuine spiritual needs.»
«A variety of pilgrims exacts from us a diverse reception,» the document notes, which takes up the spirit of the message the Pope sent to the congress.
The participants in the meeting expressed the special desire to promote pilgrimages among young people. They also said that the necessary quality reception in shrines «implies, among other things, on the part of the directors an active and attentive presence and a kind attitude.»
Conscious of the fact that it is not always possible to receive pilgrims personally, they agreed that other elements then are especially important.
Among them, they mentioned «the dignity of the liturgical celebrations and of the expressions of popular piety, the atmosphere of respect and recollection, order and security, care of the area, correct sign posting and an appropriate architecture without barriers.»
Also «the support of printed materials and of the new technologies, the creation of adequate and welcoming physical spaces for each category of persons and for each specific use (chapels of adoration and of Reconciliation, information points, museums, etc.), avoiding the perception of commercialization in the sacred space.»
The meeting’s final document, dated Sept. 30, also includes other concrete actions that can contribute to an appropriate reception, such as
«making statistical and sociological studies of the types of pilgrims as well as the motives that drive them to go on pilgrimage to a shrine.»
Also to promote volunteer workers for the reception and formation of all the agents involved in the life of the shrine, to take care especially of the preparation and training of those priests who exercise the ministry of the Word and of Reconciliation there, and finally «to define very clearly the charism of the shrine.»
In this connection, the directors of shrines and pilgrimages consider necessary «the elaboration of a pastoral plan for reception and evangelization, which includes and coordinates all the elements pointed out,» as well as «an annual objective.»
Evangelize first
The final document also reflects the conviction of the participants that the primary objective of pilgrimages is evangelization.
«We have become increasingly conscious of this possibility in the last decades, in which we have passed from a ‘devotional practice’ to a ‘pilgrimage ministry,'» states the text.
In this connection, the participants assumed the Pope’s five proposals to further the evangelizing potential of pilgrimages: «to take advantage of the capacity of convocation that characterizes them; to take care of the reception we offer; to be attuned to the questions that spring from the heart of the pilgrim; to be faithful to the Christian character of pilgrimages, without reductionism; and to help the pilgrim discover that his journey has an objective.»
To foster evangelization, the text states the «sum of efforts of all the agents involved» is needed in coordinating the work with the diocesan pastoral program, with other shrines and parishes, and with tourist and civil entities.
The final document highlights the function of episcopal conferences in the coordination of the pastoral of pilgrimages and shrines.
In this connection, the participants asked the pontifical council to urge episcopates to designate a bishop-promoter, to coordinate meetings of directors of shrines, and elaborate catechetical materials.

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