Pilgrimages are a genuine form of evangelization, says Pope Francis, and making a pilgrimage is one of the most eloquent expressions of faith.
The Pope said this today when he received in audience some 3,000 organizers of pilgrimages and shrine rectors, in Rome for their jubilee.
“A shrine is really a privileged place to encounter the Lord and to touch His mercy,” the Pontiff said, adding that going to confession at a shrine is “to have the experience of touching God’s mercy with the hand.”
In this context, the Pope’s exhortation was an emphasis on welcome.
“The Gospels present Jesus to us always welcoming those who approach Him, especially the sick, the sinners and the marginalized,” the Pope said.
“Jesus spoke of welcome, but above all He practiced it. When we are told that sinners – for instance Matthew or Zaccheus – received Jesus in their home or at their table, it was because, first of all, they felt welcomed by Jesus, and this changed their life,” he continued.
The Holy Father also noted how the Acts of the Apostles concludes painting the scene of St. Paul in Rome, welcoming those who came to him.
“His house, where he dwelt as a prisoner, was the place where he proclaimed the Gospel,” Francis reflected. “Welcome is truly determinant for evangelization. Sometimes a word, a smile simply suffices to make a person feel welcome and liked.”
Pilgrims arrive to shrines tired and hungry, both physically and spiritually, the Pope suggested.
“Therefore, this person is in need of being received well, both on the material as well as the spiritual plane,” he stated. “It is important that the pilgrim who crosses the threshold of a shrine feels that he is treated rather than a guest, as a member of the family. He must feel at home, awaited, loved and looked at with eyes of mercy. Whoever he is, young or old, rich or poor, sick and troubled, or a curious tourist, must be able to find due welcome, because in each one there is a heart that seeks God, sometimes without fully realizing it.
“We should act in such a way that every pilgrim has the joy of finally being understood and loved. Thus, on returning home, he will feel nostalgia for all that he experienced and will want to return, but above all he will want to continue the journey of faith in his ordinary life.”
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full text, in which the Pope also mentions the importance of confession at shrines: http://zenit.org/articles/popes-address-to-those-who-aid-welcome-pilgrims/