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Pope’s Address to Those Who Aid, Welcome Pilgrims

“To go on pilgrimage to shrines is one of the most eloquent expressions of the faith of the People of God”

 

Today, Pope Francis received in audience participants in the International Meeting of pilgrimage organizers and rectors of shrines, celebrating their Jubilee in Rome from January 19-21.

Here is a ZENIT translation of the Holy Father’s address:

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

I welcome you all cordially, operators of pilgrimages to shrines. To go on pilgrimage to shrines is one of the most eloquent expressions of the faith of the People of God, and it manifests the piety of generations of persons, who believed with simplicity and entrusted themselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and of the Saints. This popular religiosity is a genuine form of evangelization, which must always be promoted and appreciated, without minimizing its importance. It is curious: in Evangelii Nuntiandi, Blessed Paul VI speaks of popular religiosity, but he says that it is better to call it “popular piety.” And then, in the Document of Aparecida, the Latin American Episcopate takes a further step and speaks of “popular spirituality.” All three concepts are valid, but together. In the shrines, in fact, our people live their profound spirituality, that piety that for centuries has shaped their faith with simple but very significant devotions. We think of how, in some of these places, the prayer to Christ Crucified is understood, or that of the Rosary, or the Via Crucis.

It would be an error to hold that one who goes on pilgrimage lives not a personal but a “mass” spirituality. In reality, the pilgrim bears within him his history, his faith, the lights and shadows of his life. Everyone has in his heart a special desire and a particular prayer. One who enters a shrine feels immediately at home, welcomed, understood and supported. I very much like the biblical figure of Anna, mother of the prophet Samuel. With her heart full of sadness, she prayed in the Temple of Silo to the Lord for a child. Eli, the priest, thought instead that she was drunk and wanted to throw her out (cf. 1 Samuel 1:12-14). Anna represents well many persons that we can find in our shrines — with eyes fixed on the Crucifix or on an image of Our Lady, in a prayer full of trust made with tears in their eyes. A shrine is really a privileged place to encounter the Lord and to touch His mercy with the hand. To go to confession in a shrine is to have the experience of touching God’s mercy with the hand.

Therefore, the key word that I want to stress today together with you is welcome: to welcome pilgrims. With welcome, so to speak, we stake all — an affectionate, festive, cordial and patient welcome. Patience is also necessary! The Gospels present Jesus to us always welcoming those who approach Him, especially the sick, the sinners and the marginalized. And we recall His expression: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40). 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. It is interesting that the Book of the Acts of the Apostles ends with the scene of Saint Paul who, here in Rome, “welcomed all who came to him” (Acts 28:30). His house, where he dwelt as a prisoner, was the place where he proclaimed the Gospel. Welcome is truly determinant for evangelization. Sometimes a word, a smile simply suffices to make a person feel welcome and liked.

The pilgrim who arrives at a shrine is often tired, hungry and thirsty. And often this physical condition reflects also his interior condition. Therefore, this person is in need of being received well, both on the material as well as the spiritual plane. 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.

An altogether particular welcome is that offered by ministers of God’s forgiveness. A shrine is a house of forgiveness, where everyone encounters the Father’s mercy, who has mercy for all, no one excluded. He who approaches a confessional does so because he is repentant, he is repentant of his sin. He feels the need to go there. He perceives clearly that God does not condemn him, but receives and embraces him, as the Father of the Prodigal Son, to restore his filial dignity to him (cf. Luke 15:20-24).  Priests who carry out a ministry in shrines must have their heart permeated with mercy. Their attitude must be that of a father.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us live this Jubilee with faith and joy: let us live it as a unique great pilgrimage. You live your service, in a special way, as a work of corporal and spiritual mercy. I assure you of my prayer for this, through the intercession of Mary our Mother. And you, please, accompany me also on my pilgrimage with your prayer. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

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