Pilgrimages are a distinctive sign of the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis recalled Tuesday in a message sent to the 21st Public Session of the Pontifical Academies.
The theme of the session this year was: “Ad limina Petri: monumental traces of pilgrimage in the first centuries of Christianity”. During the event Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, on behalf of the Holy Father, awarded the Pontifical Academies Award to young experts, artists and institutions distinguished in the course of the year in the promotion of Christian humanism.
Pope Francis sent the participants a message in which he recalls how in the Bull to convoke the Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, he underlined the importance of pilgrimage as a distinctive sign of the Holy Year as “it is the icon of the path that every person must walk in his or her existence. Life is a pilgrimage and the human being a viator, a pilgrim who follows a road up to the intended goal. Even to reach the Holy Door in Rome too, or in any other place, each person must carry out, according to his or her strengths, a pilgrimage. It will be a sign of the fact that mercy too is an objective to be reached and which requires commitment and sacrifice. Pilgrimage, therefore, may be a stimulus to conversion: by passing through the Holy Door we will let ourselves be embraced by God’s mercy and we will endeavour to be merciful with others as the Father is with us”.
He goes on to refer to the theme of the Session, noting that since the first centuries of the Christian age the itineraries of pilgrims, both ecclesiastics and laypeople, have been well documented by various sources, “including the graffiti left in the places they visited, by the side of the tombs of martyrs. From this evidence there emerges the genuine and generous faith of those who journey with great courage and also with many sacrifices, to encounter, and indeed to touch with their hands, the witnesses of faith and their memories, so as to draw new enthusiasm and inner strength to live their own faith increasingly deeply and coherently”.
He remarks that pilgrimage, as is shown by those who have walked part of the ancient itineraries, rediscovered and retraced in our times, “is also an experience of mercy, sharing and solidarity with those who take the same road, as well as welcome and generosity on the part of those who host and assist pilgrims. Among the works of corporal mercy, that I have wished to re-propose as one of the signs characterising the Holy Year, welcome to strangers stands out. A glance at Christian antiquity and the traces left by pilgrims reminds us of the commitment to welcome and sharing, that in the experience of pilgrimage becomes a conscious itinerary of conversion and joyful daily practice”.
Finally, the Pope announces the names of this year’s winners of the prize that “awards a valuable contribution to archaeological study and relates to the worship of martyrs”. The winners are, ex aequo, the Portuguese association “Campo Arqueologico di Mertola”, whose referent is Professor Virgilio Lopes, for the archaeological campaigns carried out in recent years and for the extraordinary results obtained; and to Matteo Braconi for his excellent doctoral thesis on “The mosaic of the apse of the Basilica of St. Pudenziana in Rome. History, restoration, interpretations”, defended at the Rome Tre University.
As a sign of encouragement for research in the fields of history and religion, the Pope awarded the Pontifical Medal to the Spanish Almudena Alba Lopez for her publication “Political theology and anti-Arian polemics” (University of Salamanca).