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


4th European Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines

Marian Shrine of Kevelaer (Germany) 20th – 23rd September 2004

“Ecumenism of Holiness” - Pilgrimage at the Beginning of the Third Millennium

 Final Statement

 The event

 The Fourth European Conference of Directors of Pilgrimages and Rectors of Shrines took place in Kevelaer, Germany from 20 to 23 September 2004. This event was promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, in collaboration with the Marian shrine of Kevelaer. The theme of the conference was: The Ecumenism of Holiness - Pilgrimage at the Beginning of the Third Millennium. Representatives from 21 countries and three partner delegates took part.

 The purpose of the meeting was to reflect on the role that pilgrimages, and also the shrines that welcome them, may play with regard to the ecumenism of holiness. Europe is greatly in need of hope (as emerges in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa). And this perhaps most pressing need is what drives the Church to proclaim the Gospel of hope to Europe. However, in order to hope and bear witness, we must be united; hence the ecumenical aim of the meeting.

 The conference began with warm and prayerful greetings from the Holy Father who sent his blessings to the participants via a telegram from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, which was read at the beginning of the proceedings. Those attending the meeting were then welcomed by Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, President of the Pontifical Council, who recalled the shrines in which the previous European conferences were held: Máriapócs in Hungary (1996); Pompei in Italy (1998); and Montserrat in Spain (2002). Cardinal Hamao pointed out that the geographical locations in which the various conferences took place enable formation of a circle that appropriately encompasses the whole continent. Greetings from H.E. Msgr Reinhard Lettmann, Bishop of the diocese of Münster (to which the Kevelaer shrine belongs) were conveyed by the Auxiliary Bishop, H.E. Msgr Friedrich Ostermann. In his welcoming speech, the Rector of the shrine of Kevelaer, Msgr Richard Schulte Staade, also emphasised the appropriateness of the chosen venue - which is at the centre of Europe - for the theme to be dealt with.

 Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council, then presented the pastoral nature and scope of the meeting. He mentioned, among others, the document entitled “The Shrine. Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God” published by the Dicastery, and specifically No. 12, which says that: “Shrines can be places where ecumenical commitment is strongly promoted, since there the change of heart and holiness of life that are ‘the soul of the whole ecumenical movement’ is fostered”. The Archbishop then presented some specific and fundamental aspects of the ecumenical itinerary, namely, an attitude of conversion and reconciliation; recognition of the holiness of others; common prayer; witness of faith; and the service of charity and common hope.

 On the morning of 21 September, H.E. Msgr Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity spoke about Spiritual Ecumenism: A Sure Way Forward. He said, amongst other things, that ecumenism is in itself a pilgrimage, an expression of the wandering of the Church and all the people of God who, along their way, are guided, inspired and supported by the Holy Spirit. Pilgrimages may become ecumenical in many ways and bring together people who belong to different traditions. They also give us the opportunity to meet together and learn from each other about history, piety, and each person’s liturgical experience and ecclesiastical discipline. Pilgrimages may be carried out in “holy places” and provide an opportunity for prayers for unity.

The Reverend René Beaupère, Director of the Saint Irénée Centre in Lyons, France then spoke about his Fifty Years of Ecumenical Pilgrimages: Witness and Reflection, pointing out their biblical nature (the Holy Land is the spiritual homeland of all Christians); the inter-denominational dimension (groups, made up of Christians from different denominations, are led by their ministers); and ecumenical perspectives (reaching out to Christian brothers and sisters from other countries and also members of other spiritual families). He then mentioned various Church documents (denominational and inter-denominational) that support such pilgrimages.

Msgr Noël Treanor, Secretary General of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), told the participants about the experience of the European Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which took place last April. The original idea was to bring together European citizens who are moved by faith to express - visibly and symbolically - the existing link between Europe and Christianity, and to pray that the “European project” may draw inspiration from Christian anthropology. The presence of many believers, bishops and representatives from other Churches, and their participation and contribution to the reflection, witnessed a desire for unity and the intention to collaborate to bring this about among European Christians.

Then the Reverend Reinhard Kürzinger, Director of the Pilgrimages Office of the diocese of Eichstätt in Germany, stressed the importance of revitalising pilgrimages with the ecumenical spirit and presented its new forms. Msgr Richard Schulte Staade, Rector of the shrine of Kevelaer, outlined the history of the place and the welcome given to various pilgrims, and talked about the means made available to pilgrims from different Christian denominations. H.E. Msgr Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry in Northern Ireland, presented the ecumenical experience of the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland. Reverend Father Joël Houque, Rector of the abbey church in Conques in France, described some ecumenical initiatives undertaken by various French centres that welcome pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Finally, Professor Anthony Jackowski, Director of the Geographical Institute of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow, spoke about pilgrimages to the many Marian centres in Europe. These are also a factor in the integration of Eastern and Western Europe.

 The participants were then divided into common language working groups in which - on the following day too - they reflected together on matters specifically related to the promotion of the ecumenism of holiness.

  On the morning of 22 September, H.E. Msgr Georg Müller, Bishop-Prelate of Trondheim in Norway, spoke about the cathedral where the tomb of Saint Olaf Haraldson was and which is a place of pilgrimage for Lutherans and Catholics. Veneration of the memory of this saint, especially since 1950, has given rise to common celebrations and encouraged other ecumenical initiatives. The Reverend Archimandrite Spiridon Katramadon, Delegate of the Holy Synod of the Greek Church, above all mentioned pilgrimages to his country in the footsteps of the apostle Paul. The Reverend Keith Jones, Dean of York (Anglican Communion), presented the Pilgrims Association of Great Britain, of which he is president. This association encourages those in charge of the most important cathedrals and churches of all Christian traditions to guide visitors to discover the inspiration that gives rise to “holy places”. In his speech on Pilgrimage and Hospitality he pointed out that the current substantial growth in tourism also leads to an increase in pilgrimages. In today’s highly secularised society “holy places” represent a centre of attraction for Christian faith. 

Pastor Paul Martin Clotz, who works in Frankfurt in Germany at the Centre for the Proclamation of  Evangelical Church of Hessen and Nassau, told the participants about the campaign organised for the new millennium entitled Pilgrimage 2000+. The ‘plus” expressed the hope that the initiatives promoted by the campaign might also continue after 2000, as indeed has been the case. The campaign concerns rediscovering and increasing the number of pilgrimages, almost in the form of “spiritual retreats on the move”.

Experience gained during these pilgrimages has enabled members of different Christian denominations to discover all that unites them, as well as the richness of their diversity. Moreover, during these pilgrimages the joy of sharing the path with others is reaffirmed and, in this way, hospitality is given and received in the name of Christ.

The third day of the conference ended with a reception offered by the local authorities of Kevelaer in the Konzert und Bühnenhaus, with warm greetings from Mr. Heinz Paal, mayor of the town.

  On Thursday 23 September the conference proceedings continued with a speech by H.E. Msgr Szilárd Keresztes, Bishop of Hajdúdorog in Hungary, which dealt with traditional gypsy pilgrimages. Speeches followed by Msgr Luciano Gomes Guerra, Rector of the shrine in Fatima in Portugal, and by Msgr Pasquale Silla, Rector of the shrine of Divine Love in Rome. Both speakers paid particular attention to the ecumenical initiatives implemented at their shrines.

The Reverend Marc Trautmann, Vicar of the shrine of Kevelaer, then put forward a proposal - to all pilgrimage centres in Europe - for common prayer aimed at the young people who will take part in the next World Youth Day.

The conference concluded with presentation of a summary of the reports from the various working groups and approval of the final document.


  1. Pilgrimage - a privileged path in almost all religious traditions - is increasingly “recognised” by Christians, even those who for historical reasons had distanced themselves from it.

 2. Although still in an early phase, ecumenical pilgrimage initiatives are springing up in Europe, some of which are already long established. Thanks to their positive outcomes, these initiatives are expanding and, in some cases, have gained official status.

 3. The current move towards European political unity, and also towards Christian unity, constitutes a challenge, a sign of the times and a call from God so that people and communities may dedicate themselves more to finding out what they have in common and to respecting still further what is their own. This is reflected in the Christian trend towards pilgrimage; in fact, ecumenism too is a pilgrimage towards unity.

 4. The conference acknowledges that in general, despite certain experiences including “official” ones, shrines do not yet have an ecumenical programme or project.

 5. Perhaps the experience of ecumenical pilgrimage could be promoted more easily with a new generation of Christians who are better prepared for spiritual exchanges. Undoubtedly we should avoid extremism, namely relativism and fundamentalism, and concentrate on essential values, in which the absolute oneness of God becomes the salvation of humankind, thus granting a sense of eternity to everything that passes away with time.

 6. In order for shrines to achieve their spiritual vocation, which moves towards holiness, at the least faith, love and hope must imbue all those who carry out a ministry of welcome. 

 7. In itself, the ecumenical spirit will lead to purification of all those who hinder truth and charity, both through recognition of the gifts of holiness that the Lord grants our brothers and sisters, and by eliminating any deed or word that might increase our misunderstandings.  We should admit that we have inherited many different kinds of prejudice that we can only rid ourselves of slowly. By respecting the penitential nature of pilgrimage, we will expand what unites us and reduce what separates us. Along this road all communities will open up to the knowledge and recognition of real good and to the union that brings peace. 

 8. In addition to the foundations of the faith that unites us, we Christians - at least those of us who are most deeply committed - agree on fighting the evils of contemporary society, which manifest a culture of death, namely secularisation, apathy, indifference and religious ignorance, as well as despair, which arises from a lack of meaning to life. 

 9. European Christians also agree that only an abundant outpouring of divine mercy can give our continent the inspiration it needs for its mission regarding the poorer neighbours who send us crowds of migrants and refugees and, for example, gipsy populations. Shrines should be supreme places of God’s mercy and solidarity. 


 10. In the work that Christians can carry out together, at times and in places of pilgrimage, the breath of the Holy Spirit must be discovered. Any collaboration, including the most material aspects of voluntary service, already manifests a certain degree of unity. In any case, in the current ecumenical situation, common prayer as a response to the Word of God remains the most evangelical sign of the presence of Jesus among us, while charity is the necessary expression of holiness. 

 11. Organisation of common days of prayer is proposed at shrines for specific purposes, such as peace; sharing between rich and poor countries; Christian unity; the family; migrants and refugees; and Europe itself. In some places, prayer for unity should be more frequent, and the Via Crucis will purify us of any false judgements or interests. Some shrines could also follow the example of others in creating a school of ecumenical prayer that could become a meeting place of unity. Finally, ministers from other denominations could also be invited to preach on some occasions. Individual Church authorities could also make available some spaces within a shrine for worship by Christian brothers and sisters who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. 

 12. Pilgrims and Christians gathered together at our shrines should also commemorate martyrs, as well as saints, especially the Patron Saints of Europe, namely Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Benedicta Teresa of the Cross. This has an ecumenical dimension. Saint Benedict will particularly help us through his principle: to receive guests (at shrines) as if they were Jesus Christ. 

 13. The participants therefore formulated certain themes to be dealt with at future conferences, such as the presence of believers from other religions, pilgrimages by young people and other groups, and also sacramental pastoral care, especially reconciliation.

 14. Finally, the desire was expressed to hold a world conference, which should be prepared by existing and future national associations of rectors and directors of pilgrimages.

  * * *

 At the end of this Fourth Conference, beneath the gaze of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Kevelaer, Consolatrix afflictorum, Comforter of the Distressed, the participants understood that the theme of the ecumenism of holiness should be one of the centres of pastoral attention regarding pilgrimages, so that our shrines may, in accordance with the prayer of Jesus, become clear signs of the unity desired by the Lord, which has its foundation in one God in the mystery of Three Divine Persons. 

The vision of Mary, Mother of God and her Son’s first disciple, whose beauty fills our shrines with tenderness, can help us to develop a Marian ecumenism. This should be nourished by acceptance of the fact that the Virgin Mary always heeded the Word and was perfectly obedient and faithful to the will of God, and therefore a model  icon of the Holy Church and of every Christian. 

  Kevelaer, 23 September 2004