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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 104, August 2007



National Consultation for

Shrines and Pilgrimages, iNDIA*

Keynote Address



Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

President of the Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People



When Christians embark on a pilgrimage, it’s as if he or she were going on an extended retreat, filled with silence and moments that captivate the heart. The pilgrim travels from place to place until he begins to feel as if nothing in life has prepared him for the kind of spiritual growth and understanding he experiences as a pilgrim.  Everything old is seen with a new perspective and even the most hallowed of prayers rings with new purity. That is why Christians have gone on pilgrimage for nearly twenty centuries! A pilgrim is a wayfarer with a destination: usually a shrine or a city associated with a great saint whose presence still echoes there. Ultimately, however, a trip to a holy place has always been seen as a way to draw closer to God.  The shrine which is the destiny of that pilgrimage becomes, as it were, “the Meeting Tent”, as the Bible calls the tabernacle of the covenant[1]. 

Pilgrimages and shrines

1) Pilgrimage is an important expression of all religious traditions[2]. For Catholics, it is an act of devotion that expresses the desire to be transformed by special moments of prayer, of worship, offered in sacred places that draw us into the presence of God; places where we can cherish the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints. As human beings we are plagued by uncertainties, limitations and anxieties. We seek answers to uncertainties of life, the pitfalls of the human condition, questions about sickness and death, and the contempt for human rights and human dignity that we witness on a daily basis. Above all, we seek help regarding the many evils that make us feel particularly defenceless, such as war and violence, hunger, poverty, AIDS, and natural disasters. Who can forget the tsunami of 26 December 2004, which brought so much suffering to so many countries in South and Southeast Asia? Our thoughts naturally turn to the victims of that disaster as we gather here in this great Shrine of Vailankanni, which, although still standing, has seen the loss of so many people in the surrounding area.

2) Despite these harsh realities, the concept of pilgrimage reminds us of the tremendous resource we have as believers.  Throughout the ages, man “appears in his secular history as homo viator, a traveler thirsty for new horizons, hungry for justice and peace, searching for truth, longing for love, open to the absolute and the infinite[3].  The Christian practice of pilgrimage is a celebration of fellowship, a collective act of redemption, vividly in tune with the Catholic theology of a community at prayer.  It is seeking of the sacred outside of one’s own immediate locality, with the view of helping the believer locate personal faith in a wider context, and offering an opportunity for self-examination and enhanced self-knowledge before the mysteries of our faith.

3) The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul and the catacombs in Rome, were among the first places of pilgrimage for the early Christians.  Subsequently, other places would become destinations for pilgrimages, such as the tombs of Saint James in Compostella, of Saint Francis in Assisi, of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury and of Saint Anthony in Padua.  A simple church in Venice is where Saint Francis Xavier, for example, celebrated the Mass before boarding a ship for the East Indies. He was the forerunner of a wave of missionaries who, following in his footsteps, would take the Gospel as far as Japan. Other places of pilgrimages and shrines have been dedicated in Asia to commemorate the beginning of evangelization by Saint Thomas the Apostle, or to commemorate the martyrdom of holy men and women, or to celebrate those who have dedicated their life to the love of the poorest, such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.   

Care for the most vulnerable

4) We do not undertake a pilgrimage as mere wayfarers or tourists, but rather as members of a spiritual family, among whom are many people afflicted with various hardships and burdens. The sick and suffering, the poor and the vulnerable merit special consideration as we reflect upon the theme of pilgrimage to shrines, which offer a place of spiritual communion, hope, and solidarity. So many of our brothers and sisters have difficulty in obtaining suitable and safe healthcare treatment, or find it impossible to learn a trade or to earn a living. We see so many fragile and poor brothers and sisters trudging along the roads, against a backdrop of destitution that seems to convey an image of impotence and resignation. At the same time, however, there are signs of improvement in the growth of India’s GDP, for example. This nation is achieving goals in many fields, including in several scientific and technological areas. These hopeful signs bear witness to the great talents of your people and constitute a sure promise for a bright future for India. 

5) Amidst the contrasts of light and darkness, of hope and despair, it is worth pondering the task of workers in the field of the pastoral care of pilgrimages and shrines.  What characteristics should these ministers have? How can they best serve our brothers and sisters on pilgrimage? First of all, those who are privileged to serve in this field should be people who listen well. The ministry of welcome requires us to be attentive and sensitive to the people around us. It requires that we empathize with the pilgrims--being aware of their emotions, the reasons behind their joys and sorrows--thereby expressing our solidarity with them. The capacity for understanding is the foundation for entering into communion with them and seeking to revitalise their hope. Thus for pilgrims, we should be witnesses of hope, confident that God’s presence and power is with us always, as he has demonstrated throughout history. Our hope, therefore, is rooted in God; God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who is capable of redesigning a future that may at times seem irredeemable.  

From the cross to the resurrection

6) The mystery of the cross of Christ does not represent a defeat, but rather our ultimate victory over sin and death, and over suffering and sorrow. Through his cross and Resurrection, Jesus has set us free. Consequently, the encounter with Christ in faith is a reason for joy and hope.  Encountering God in the Paschal Mystery should serve to renew the sense of one’s own dignity, freeing oneself from the weight of sin and exploitation, and rediscovering that God is at the same time the omnipotent and merciful Father, whose Son Jesus Christ became man in order to walk alongside us in our lives. 

7) In this sense we are representatives of a Church that shares in the human adventure in a unique and meaningful way--by bearing witness to and spreading the love that God has for all men and women, especially for the poor and the vulnerable: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12). The task, then, is to give ourselves lavishly, with the faith and patience of those who sow without worrying about what they might reap. This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain - first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).   

Evangelization and Christ’s True Presence

8) Undoubtedly, some people visit shrines out of curiosity, perhaps to admire the works of art and historical artefacts that are very often found in them. Let us therefore not neglect the details that may be of great assistance to pilgrims in this regard.  Votive offerings, for example, and other objects that recall the special action of God and of the Saints should be displayed with care, because God inspires us through these signs to call people to a renewed consciousness of His presence.  God is the one who takes the initiative in entering into dialogue with each person; our task is to listen to Him. Therefore, pilgrimage and shrine workers are a sign of His presence, of His call.  “Witness is the first form of mission”[4]. The opportunities that you have to evangelize are abundant.  In Asia, no less than anywhere else, people understand that evangelisation derives above all from a profound sense of gratitude towards God, the Father “who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), and who has placed the Holy Spirit in our hearts to bear us witness of His love.

9) Remember this as you engage in your work; when you welcome pilgrims, when you prepare liturgical celebrations, and when you accompany pilgrims to the sacred places. Yours is a tremendous responsibility!  Yours is a marvelous opportunity! The welcome offered to pilgrims could very well lead a soul to the sacrament of reconciliation, to the loving embrace of forgiveness by God.  Your ministry has the possibility of recharging men and women of faith with a renewed commitment to witness to the Gospel and serve the Church. Above all, your ministry to pilgrims enables people to hear the Word of God in a context of personal and community prayer, and to experience the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is the climax of a pilgrimage.  It is in the Eucharist that we encounter Christ most fully. “In the Eucharistic celebration, the fulcrum of every ecclesial community, the welcome offered to visitors has its deepest expression[5]

Welcoming the Stranger

10) You know well that many of our shrines are visited by members of other religious traditions. In Islamic countries, for example, shrines, especially those dedicated to Mary, have always been visited by local people, including those from other religions. With the transformation of the world into a global village, partly as a result of migration, Muslims too, for example, are drawn into the mystery of God through the mother of Jesus and other holy men and women whose memories are kept alive in these sacred places[6]. Here in India you undoubtedly see Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and people from other religions, attending religious celebrations and processions. These circumstances should be seen as great opportunities for men and women to come together in the common bonds of faith, hope and love, and to bear witness to the love we have received from Christ. The Encyclical Deus caritas est says: “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. John 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. John 19:34)[7]. Christians, who have acquired so much from love, should therefore be happy and friendly, and express solidarity towards pilgrims from other religions. Carry out your ministry with the spirit of a host who welcomes the wayfarer, and as one who upholds the inviolable rights of the person, and the equal dignity of men and women[8]. Your own charity and gestures will certainly not be forgotten by those whom you serve in Christ’s name.  


11) As President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, allow me to make special mention of migrants. Pilgrimages and shrines are also a reference point for migrants, because they often help migrants to renew and strengthen the awareness of their own identity. Emigration entails a change in - or even the risk of losing - one’s roots, traditional social background, customs and conduct. Besides engendering a feeling of loneliness and of being an outsider, emigration also puts one’s religious experience at risk as a result of having been uprooted from the land where one was born, raised, and formed in faith. And so, pilgrimages and shrines offer unique opportunities for carrying out the pastoral care of migrants. 

Religious Meetings and Associations

12) One of the responsibilities of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, outlined in the Apostolic Constitution, Pastor Bonus, is to provide care for all people who go on trips for reasons connected with the spiritual life, for “reasons of piety” (no. 151).  Consequently, in its efforts to provide ever more suitable pastoral service in this area, the Pontifical Council has been organising periodic regional and continental congresses, in collaboration with local host Churches.  Here in Asia, the first congress took place in Manila (Philippines) in 2003, the second in Seoul (Korea) in 2005, and the third is scheduled to be held this year in Nagasaki (Japan) from 15 to 17 October. The purpose of these gatherings is to compare pastoral experiences in the various Asian nations, raise awareness of Asia’s shrines, offer paths of reflection, and to identify practical courses of action. At the two previous congresses, the participants appreciated the initiative and were pleased to learn about situations far removed from their own knowledge and experience. It should be noted in this regard that certain Asian countries promote pilgrimages to Europe and America, but do not organize them in other parts of Asia.  Undoubtedly, Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostella, Lourdes and Fatima are extraordinary places, but why not also consider Asian shrines? For the Nagasaki Congress, invitations will be sent to participants as soon as possible, although the representation criterion has yet to be established.

13) In conclusion, at the last Asian meeting a desire was expressed that each country should create its own national or, if it so wished, regional association of Shrine Rectors and Pilgrimage Directors.  I would like to endorse this proposal for India as well, since there are so many important Catholic shrines. Such associations, with episcopal approval, would serve to enhance this important ministry in the Church and be beneficial for both large and small shrines. At the same meeting the participants also agreed to set up an Asian association for shrines and pilgrimages. This organization is still in the process of being formed. 

I wish you all a very fruitful meeting, and thank you for inviting me to be with you during these days of study, prayer and solidarity. May God bless you richly for all that you do for His people. 


The familiar Gospel story of the Woman at the Well is significant in that it offers us a lesson in welcoming the stranger. Jesus, in asking for a drink of water from this Samaritan woman, offers her the great gift of faith; a gift that she had been thirsting for her entire life, but was unable to realize until this encounter with Jesus--the Stranger who met her at the well. Her encounter with Jesus was the beginning of a new life for her, and her thirst for truth was finally quenched as the love of God in Christ was made manifest to her on that day. The lesson here is that the love of God overcomes any kind of barrier, whether of ideology, race, culture, nation and people.

Throughout history we have witnessed the ways in which people of different races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds can hurt one another and regress into conflicts and even violence. We see examples of this in acts of terrorism; in the wars of past and present, in the social injustices, and in the cultural barriers that we all too often erect.  These are stark reminders of “man’s inhumanity to man.” The Gospel passage, however, is a teaching on the need to be tolerant and accepting, to share with others the treasure of faith in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, and to recognize that we all belong to the family of God. Like the Samaritan woman, many people today find themselves wandering through life with heavy hearts, with a sense of emptiness inside, in search of a deeper meaning to life. All of us long for that moment when the “truth will set us free,” as John’s Gospel says, when we will finally encounter the object of our deepest longing. We know that such an encounter will bring us hope and joy, and an interior peace that the world cannot give. Only Christ can give us this gift.

During the holy time of Lent, many communities, large and small, are gathering in homes and in churches to listen to the Word of God, and to pray for the grace needed to walk on this Lenten journey in a spirit of penance, and in a spirit of charity and compassion towards the poor and suffering in our midst. The season of Lent offers us the opportunity to take an honest look at who we are and see if we like who we have become; to recognize once again that we need God in our lives more than we need anything else.

 Today’s Gospel describes one of the most moving encounters with the Son of God.

First of all, the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman seems almost casual. It seems quite normal that Jesus should be there at the well at midday, and that this woman should happen to be there at the same time. And yet there is nothing casual about this encounter.  Jesus, the Christ, truly looked into the spiritual void of this woman and filled her thirsting soul with living water. Jesus reveals to her in this moment the gift that she had been searching for all her life, as she went from one husband to another, and making poor choices along the way. As the conversation between Jesus and the woman continues, it becomes clear that this is no casual meeting, but a dialogue of conversion.  In the presence of Christ, this woman is being transformed, being reborn with the living water that only He can give. So changed was this woman after this encounter with Christ that she runs back to the village to proclaim her new life in Christ.  For the first time in her life she realizes what really matters, and she is enabled through the power of grace to turn her life over to the One who alone can quench our thirst.

We human beings are often distinguished by the great thirst we have. Many times, however, it is a thirst that proves pernicious. The thirst for wealth, for pleasure, for power, and for things that do not truly satisfy the longings of the heart. How seldom does the prayer of the Psalmist spring to our lips or rise from our heart: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God!” How often we are captivated by the false advertising of materialism and consumerism that promises to satisfy our thirst but to no avail. We too have a need to find Jesus on our way, the One who comes to meet us to “quench our thirst”. Herein lies the beauty of the pilgrimage. Jesus meets us in our shrines, where for us too there is “a well” at which God awaits us. For he loves us and wants us to abandon our old ways of darkness and sin and accept light of his truth and love. This is the goal of pilgrimage, to find the spring of water that wells up with hope and joy-- the Source of Life.

Water is a symbol of the new life of baptism. It is the vehicle through which the graces of baptism are poured out through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Water is the sign of our new birth in Christ.  The water of Jesus is the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, who transforms the heart of man, who frees the soul from darkness and fills it with divine life, wisdom, love, good will and joy. The Holy Spirit changes the life of the person in whom He dwells, renews the face of the earth and transforms the whole of creation that “has been groaning in travail together until now” (Rm 8: 22).

The Instruction “Erga migrantes caritas Christi” of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, reminds us that “popular piety, too, deserves particular attention, as it is characteristic of many migrant communities. Besides recognizing that ‘when it is well oriented, above all by a pedagogy of evangelization, it is rich in values’ (EN 48), we must also bear in mind that for many migrants it is a fundamental link with their Church of origin and with their ways of understanding and living the faith” (No. 46).

Popular piety is a treasure of the Church; it is a treasure of the Spirit present also in the search for the God who saves.  Popular piety “has a need to be continuously evangelised, so that the faith that it expresses may become an ever-more mature, pure and authentic act.  Both the pilgrimages of the Christian people and other forms of devotion and piety, are to be welcomed and recommended so long as they do not replace the liturgical celebrations. Only a genuine liturgical ministry shall show itself capable of supporting itself more on the riches of popular piety, while at the same time purifying them and directing them towards the Liturgy as the offering of peoples” (Vicesimus Quintus Annus, no. 18).

It is important to recognise the value of popular piety, to safeguard its genuine substance, to purifiy it if necessary, to illuminate it with the light of Holy Scripture, and to direct it to the Sacred Liturgy, without placing it in opposition to it.

Popular piety is an expression of faith. This is particularly exemplified in pilgrimage, which is a unique journey that expresses the inward desire to draw close to the Mystery made visible in the shrine. May the Spirit accompany us on the path towards He who is the Shrine of God par excellence, Christ the Lord who once met a woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well and changed her life forever by revealing the object of her searching and by quenching her thirst for the Living God.


* Bangalore (India) 12-14 March 2007

[1] pontifical council for the pastoral care of migrants an itinerant people, The Shrine. Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, no. 1: roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants/s_index_tourism/rc_pc_migrants_sectiontourists_it.htm.

[2] Cf. agostino marchetto,  speech Pilgrimages in Time and Space: People on the Move XXXVII (2005), No. 97, pp. 57-66.

[3] pontifical council for the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee of 2000, no. 24: roman_ curia / pontifical _ councils/migrants/s_index_tourism/rc_pc_ migrants_ sectiontourists_it.htm.

[4] pope john paul ii, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, no. 42.

[5] pontifical council for the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism, no. 19: pontifical_councils/migrants/s_index_tourism/rc_pc_migrants_sectiontourists_it.htm.

[6] Cf. Migration and Itinerancy from and towards Islamic Majority Countries: People on the Move, XXXVIII (2006), Suppl. 101, pp. 299-308.

[7] pope benedict xvi, Encyclical Letter Deus caritas est, no. 7.

[8] Cf. pontifical council for the pastoral care of migrants, Erga migrantes caritas Christi, no. 66: People on the Move, XXVI (2004), No. 95, pp.105-172.