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   Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People


Workshop for Pilgrimage Coordinators and Shrine Directors

from the Dioceses of the United States

Keynote address

H.E. Msgr. Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President of the Pontifical Council

It is truly a great pleasure for me to meet with you, Pilgrimage Coordinators and Shrine Directors from the Dioceses of the United States, in this traditional seminar you hold in Rome. I imagine that for all of you, this pilgrimage to Rome represents an extraordinary opportunity to develop the work in which you are involved, and to renew your conviction – I would call it, rather, your passionate commitment – to this apostolate which is proving so fruitful in the Church of our times.

The theme you have chosen for the work of these days – “The role and importance of Shrines and Pilgrimage in encouraging the continuing tradition of pilgrimage” –itself provides a good reflection of the times to which I refer. As President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples (of which the Pastoral Care of Pilgrimages and Shrines is a part), I cannot but insist on the truth contained in those words enclose. Moreover, I would say that they must not be read as referring to some desirable future, to a task that remains to be accomplished; on the contrary, I feel I can safely say that a consciousness of the importance of Shrines and Pilgrimages is something solidly rooted in the life of the Church, and that it is being given due pastoral attention by bishops and pastoral care workers.

For our part in the Pontifical Council, we have demonstrated this conviction by presenting the two documents with which you are already familiar: on Pilgrimage and on the Shrine. I think I can say that the two documents have met with broad appreciation and that they have helped many people in their reflections and in pastoral planning.

To this – and in order to underline the fact that what we are talking about is a reality present on all continents – I can add my personal testimony gathered during our work in the Pontifical Council. I will give just three examples of events which took place last year: at the Shrine of Monserrat, Spain, we held the Third European Congress for Directors of Pilgrimages and Rectors of Shrines, at which some 200 people from all over Europe participated; in February the World Day of the Sick was held at the Shrine of Vailankanni, India, a site visited annually by around 10 million pilgrims, not only Christians, but also Muslims and Hindus; in the month of November in the Americas, to be precise in Santiago, Chile, the Third American Congress of Rectors of Shrines was held with representatives from 16 countries of the continent in attendance. Finally, the Pastoral Care of Shrines and Pilgrimages is also being stimulated in Africa, and numerous bishops have contacted us for help on this path.

I feel we must recognize and give thanks to God that “today also, shrines are a priceless gift of grace to his Church”[1], that the heart of Shrines and their fundamental raison d’être is that in them “the means of salvation are offered in greater abundance”[2]; and we must do this in the certainty that Shrines thus take their place in the Church as a whole, “sacrament of salvation”, without establishing any special privilege or becoming a separate reality. In her mission, the Church must make every effort to find the most appropriate means for announcing the Gospel to modern men and women, and in this sense Shrines today offer concrete opportunities, well adapted to the reality of our society and to the way of life of contemporary humanity. God has the grace to show us, as in the parable of the Gospel, that in the ancient treasure of our history we also possess a precious means for the evangelization of today’s world.

Indeed, we all know how the modern world is dominated by mobility; by the idea of the journey; by the urge for encounters – not imposed by the requirements of work or place of residence – in different places and with different people; by the need for environments that offer, at one and the same time, the opportunity to experience individual identity and to build catholicity in a world open to multi-cultural coexistence.

Shrines and Pilgrimages are in a position to respond to these aspirations. We pastoral leaders must become ever more aware of this great opportunity for evangelization and our reflections must include elements that introduce new aspects into our pastoral care. In keeping with the theme proposed for this seminar, one subject that could be studied is that of the relationship between tradition, as embodied by Shrines and Pilgrimages, and their admirable capacity to find responses to new situations. Indeed, in one sense, what we are talking about are religious acts intimately associated with tradition. Shrines and Pilgrimages generally have a history stretching back a number of centuries, not to mention the cases where they continue a tradition that came into being at the dawn of Christianity, such as in the Holy Land and Rome. This history is intimately linked to the history of the local Church, which is to say, to announcing the Gospel to a particular people and culture, and to the “incarnate” response with which they accepted the Word of salvation. Not infrequently, Shrines stand out as preserving these traditional forms – what we call popular piety – in a much more faithful and constant way. It is not wrong, I feel, to say that Shrines are profoundly “traditional”.

Given that this is so, what is it then that makes these “traditional” sites so attractive to modern men and women? It is not, of course, nostalgia. Nostalgia, the longing for times past, serves at most to boost museum visits or to enliven a gathering of old comrades; it does not move millions of young people, as in the annual march to Our Lady of Luján in Argentina, or help endure the weary and footsore days along the Road to Santiago or the routes leading to Fatima, nor does it encourage the huge displays of charity at the Shrine of the Infant Jesus in Bogota.

I will say it with one plain and simple word: faith. This is the profound cause that leads Christians to Shrines. A faith that has become history. When visiting a Shrine, a Christian can clearly observe what is written in the Letter to the Hebrews: “As for us, we have this large crown of witnesses round us” (Hebr. 12, 1): witnesses he knows, who speak his language, who work in the same fields, who built the houses in which he lives. From them he receives the invitation with which the Letter to the Hebrews continues: “let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end”.

Today when, especially in your cities, so many men and women live far from their own countries, far from the houses and fields that nurtured them, a Shrine, though it may only be an altar, dedicated to some representative of their native land, will be for them, above all, a memory of their faith.

How, then, can we not but encourage the continuance of the tradition of pilgrimage, of visits to Shrines? The Church herself recognizes her own pilgrim nature, not in order to proclaim that she is foreign to the world, but rather to confess that she must be saintly, just as her Lord Jesus Christ was saintly and “went everywhere doing good” (Acts 10, 38). The Pilgrimage culminates in the visit to the Shrine, but it is not simply a visit, quite the contrary, the way of Pilgrimage is an ecclesial march, it is a journey on which Christians must feel they are members of the Church, committed to her mission, ever ready to recognize their sins and renew their baptismal promise. The ecclesial significance of Pilgrimage acquires special relevance when it takes place beyond the frontiers of the region or country. It then becomes an occasion to open oneself to the charity the Church displays towards the needs of the men and women of our world, to solidarity with all those who suffer, with those who endure hunger and those who struggle for peace.

Our greedy and hurried modern world, frequently bewildered and lacking direction, needs the pilgrim Church, it needs pilgrims who, along the paths of the world, renew the footprints of the “witnesses of the faith”. And the Church needs apostles to lead those pilgrims, to support them on the way, to indicate the goal, the Shrine, the tent of God who advances in the midst of his People.

The Church needs you all, she needs your work, your commitment to keeping the tradition of Pilgrimage alive, and to offering a warm welcome to those who come to the Shrines.

I am certain that these days of work and being together will give you renewed energies to continue in this mission. Let us entrust ourselves to the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, who is venerated in so many Shrines in your country and all over the world, as the guide and mainstay of pilgrims, the Queen of Peace.
[1] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, El Santuario. Memoria, presenza e profezia del Dios vivente, no. 1; Vatican City, 1999.
[2] Code of Canon Law, can. 1230.