VATICAN CITY, AUG. 22, 2011 ( Shrines can help to counteract increasing secularization, and provide for all people a "privileged place" to experience the "loving and saving presence of God," says the Congregation for Clergy.

The dicastery said this in a circular letter of encouragement sent Aug. 15 to the rectors of shrines. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza and Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, the dicastery's prefect and secretary, respectively, signed the missive.

"In a climate of widespread secularism," the letter stated, the shrine is "a fruitful space, away from daily distractions, where he can recollect himself, gather his thoughts and reacquire the spiritual health to re-embark upon the journey of faith with greater ardour."

"It is there too that he can find space to seek, find and love Christ in his ordinary life, in the midst of the world," the note added.

One of the essential tasks of shrines, the congregation underlined, is the proclamation of the Word of God, which should be done through using sacred Scripture, the liturgy and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Quoting the Catechism, the letter added: "For pilgrims seeking living water, shrines are special places for living the forms of Christian prayer."

Regarding popular piety and devotional practices, the clergy congregation letter noted that "the multiple and varied forms of devotion, frequently deriving from intense feeling and cultural traditions, bear witness to a fervent intensity of the spiritual life nourished by constant prayer and the intimate desire to belong ever more closely to Christ."

"The Church, always conscious of the intimate meaning of such religious manifestations in the spiritual life of the faithful, has always recognized their value and has respected the genuine expression of them," it added. "Indeed, through the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs and the Councils, She has recommended and favored them. At the same time, however, wherever She has noticed attitudes and ways of thinking that are not consistent with a sound religious sense, She has found the need to intervene, purifying such acts from unwanted elements and providing timely reflections, courses and lessons."

Nonetheless, the letter added, devotions cannot take the place of the liturgy: "Such expressions of faith, instead of contrasting with the centrality of the sacred liturgy, must be placed alongside it and be always oriented to it. The celebration of the liturgy of the Sacred Mysteries expresses the common faith of the whole Church."

New evangelization

The letter underlined that even in modern societies, "shrines maintain an extraordinary attraction for the faithful, shown by the growing number of pilgrims that go to them."

"Frequently," it continued, "one finds men and women of every age and condition, with complex human and spiritual situations, sometimes removed from a sound life of faith or with a fragile sense of ecclesial belonging.

"To visit a shrine can be for them a valuable opportunity to encounter Christ or to rediscover their sense of baptismal vocation and to hear its saving call."

The letter urged the rectors: "With evangelical wisdom and with a generous sensitivity, it would serve as an example to make oneself the companion the journey with pilgrims and visitors, seeking to identify the reasons of the heart and the expectations of the spirit that have brought them there.

"In giving this service the collaboration of people with specific abilities, characterized by a welcoming humanity, spiritual insightfulness and theological intelligence, will help in introducing the pilgrims to the shrine as an event of grace, a place of religious experience and of rediscovered joy."

The letter said shrines also offer "an excellent opportunity to welcome God's pardon in the sacrament of penance," participation in the Eucharistic liturgy, adoration, the Way of the Cross, the rosary, and other sacraments and acts piety.

Shrines, the letter concluded, are "those places where we go to seek, to hear, to pray," and where the faithful can be "touched by God through his Word, the sacraments of reconciliation and of the Eucharist, the intercession of the Mother of God and of the saints."

"Only in this manner, moving through the swells and tempests of history, challenging the pervasive sense of relativism that currently reigns," the note added, "will shrines become places that facilitate a renewed dynamism directed towards the greatly desired new evangelization."

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