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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 105, December 2007



Pilgrimages and Shrines:

Places of Hope*


Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO

Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Your Excellencies,

Mr. Mayor,

Dear Participants: 

It is a great joy for me - and I say this sincerely - to be present at this Third Asian Congress on the Pastoral Care of Pilgrimages and Shrines, as a guest of the beloved Archdiocese of Nagasaki, and also because I was not able to take part in the first two Congresses. First of all, I cordially welcome all the participants and wish to express sincere thanks to the Bishops’ Conference of Japan that welcomed the proposal to hold this meeting enthusiastically and shares the burden of its organization in its Commission for Pastoral Care.

My address is an introduction to the work of the next days while taking a look backwards at what has already been done over time and focusing on the theme of the present Congress.

At regular two-year intervals, we offer the occasion to the Directors of Pilgrimages and the Rectors of Shrines of Asia to meet, to get to know one another, and to exchange ideas and experiences, thereby also achieving the objective of supporting one another in faith and creating a network of charity among brothers of the same Catholic family in this very vast and varied continent of the future.

The first successful meeting took place in Manila (The Philippines) in 2003 and was followed by the one in Seoul (Korea) in 2005, which proved to be equally constructive. This third appointment brings us together here to take up a very beautiful and significant theme: Pilgrimages and Shrines, Places of Hope.

I would say that this topic fully responds to the purposes for which we are gathered here today: namely, to reflect again on the function of pilgrimages and shrines.  In fact, if people go as pilgrims to shrines, it is because they are moved by hope, and shrines are places of the little-big sister hope, as Péguy wrote. 


A pilgrimage is a “voyage”, let us say, of one or more persons to holy places of devotion and tradition, perhaps to fulfill a promise and/or to obtain a grace.  At the origin of this decision there is a desire for change, which can gradually lead to arranging one’s choices in life from a faith perspective.

On this religious itinerary, it is necessary to get out of oneself and the routine of one’s habits in order to set out towards the horizon indicated by the Lord, as Abraham did, our Father in faith.  “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”, as the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote with great depth (Heb 11:1). To hope in something is a human prerogative about which one must not equivocate, but one must avoid identifying it in a limited way with human needs that require immediate answers, such as a healing, a roof over one’s head, a job, and so on Hope, as we said, is in something, but there is also hope in persons, trust in them, and here we find the Lord. On the pilgrimage it is precisely He who invites us to get out of ourselves and go beyond our perspectives closed into a solely human logic, in order to set out to meet him where He makes himself present. Faith is also a proof of “things” that exist because they are revealed by God. It is the duty of pastoral agents to support the pilgrims on the way to their encounter with God, with the Absolute, so that prayer and due recollection will not be lacking to prepare their spirits for renewal and purification. In meditation and silence, the pilgrims will listen to the Word of God who speaks to their hearts and lets them get out of their false certainties, outside the boat, like Peter (Cf. Mt 14:28).

In fact, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God” (Heb 11:8-10). “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son” (Heb 11:17).

The way of Abraham, “our father in faith”, represents a life model for every believer, but especially for itinerants and pilgrims on a way aimed at hope in the future, the heavenly homeland and salvation. Now this promise of salvation can only be believed but not seen or achieved. We go towards a future that must be awaited amidst the difficulties of the trial and the uncertainties of the present. In fact, faith does not make us privileged persons outside the world.  We who believe through grace also “moan” with the world and share its pain and suffering, especially of the poor, but we live this situation in hope, certain in the Lord Jesus that “the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 Jn 2:8).

The Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is not a program of social transformation that is entrusted to human energies for its implementation.  It belongs to God and will have its definitive completion in Him beyond history, whereas in history it is present as a fragile and hidden seed, which only the choice of individuals can welcome and make fruitful. The Kingdom remains always the object of a proclamation, an invocation and a necessity of testimony on the part of believers: it is a promise from God, a promise that requires acting and trusting in the Word of Jesus. Even with its weaknesses as an image, the example of scaffolding is valid. It is used to erect a building which, in this case, for us, is the Kingdom. Scaffolding is necessary to build the house, but it is not the house, and once the house is made, this metallic or wooden structure is no longer needed and must be taken down.

The pastoral agents that accompany the faithful in this process have not an easy task of making sure that the pilgrimages can be “a means of proclaiming faith and love, positive messages, fruitful and efficacious contacts”,[1] paths of hope. 


The shrine was the innermost and most sacred part of the Jerusalem temple where the Ark of the Covenant stood, the urn in which the tables of the law were also kept.  It had accompanied the Hebrew people as they crossed the desert and it was the sign of Yahweh’s presence. Moreover, “it is significant that after the great trials of the Exile, the Chosen People felt the need to express a sign of their hope by rebuilding the Temple, the shrine of adoration and praise”[2] .

In common speech, shrine means a place or church, where particularly venerated relics or sacred images are kept that is the destination of pilgrimages. Many shrines have been dedicated to the Mother of God, others to the Saints, God’s friends and ours, to the martyrs for the faith, following supernatural events, such as apparitions, miracles and/or mysterious happenings. They can be considered “intermediary stations” on our earthly path, places where we get new enthusiasm and vigour to reach in fullness the Kingdom promised by God, even though it is present in the Church, the first fruit and seed of the Kingdom (LG 5). There are shrines everywhere: some are of very ancient origin, others are more recent; some are known worldwide, others are known more locally, but all of them are places of what is essential where one goes to obtain “Grace” above all, and not so much graces with a small “g” or favours.

In the shrine, all the pilgrims, including the pastoral agents, are urged to approach the Sacrament of Penance in order to be reconciled with God, with themselves and with creation, and to become available and open to others in charity and solidarity, the roots of hope. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is followed by the celebration of the Eucharist, the centre and heart of the shrine, just as it is in Christian life. This culminating moment of the pilgrimage, which generally brings together groups of pilgrims, is an occasion for brotherhood and for overcoming ethnic, political and social divisions, and it should be celebrated with the due propriety and solemnity, as Pope Benedict XVI constantly urges us.

So it is good to welcome joyfully and get all the components of the assembly involved - men and women, elders and children, the poor and the sick - while taking into consideration the specific character of each group and the different languages.  The very atmosphere that happily fills the shrine engenders the resolutions to renew one’s lifestyle, behaviour, and relations and solicits hope, the little-big virtue of hope, the virtue that makes even God wonder, once again in Péguy’s view.

In an era marked by growing violence and bloody conflicts, the shrine can thus favour relations and dialogue among different cultures, traditions and even religions, in the sign of peace, a gift of God and a conquest of people of good will.

Then, in the Christian tradition, the real shrine is Christ himself…who spoke about his body as the shrine or sanctuary of God (Cf. Jn 2:21). 

Pilgrimages and Shrines, Places of Hope

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ: this is the prayer the priest says during Mass. Human life generally unfolds in the simple everyday life of the family, study and work. But to place one’s daily needs above everything else and put God at their service with the presumption that he will satisfy them, is a common temptation and a grave error. We do not live only by concrete things: “One does not live by bread alone” (Mt 4:4).  Man needs to look beyond what corresponds to his material needs in order to understand what true goods need to be sought, the ones that do not pass.  The first good is life, physical and spiritual life, which God has given us and through which He lets himself be known to us.  Life is surely a gift and as such we have to appreciate and love it. Anyone who is incapable of loving life cannot love his neighbour. To love, in fact, means to want the good of another, that is, to do good. On the occasion of pilgrimages and visits to shrines, we can and must make it understood how necessary it is to recognize the value of God’s gift. We find so many experiences of good in the love between parents and children, between spouses and between friends. There is so much good in the creativity of work, art, social solidarity and in scientific discovery, which, however, must be for man and not against him or his nature. These are real goods, the result of our daily commitment that endures, and they can immediately include us, if they are a fruit of love, in building directly the house, to continue the example of the scaffolding.

We also go on a pilgrimage and to a shrine to express our gratitude for the goods we have received, and we also learn to practice the virtue of hope which sustains us even if these goods are lacking. Do not fear when others become rich, when the wealth of their houses grows great. When they die they will take nothing with them, their wealth will not follow them down (Psalm 49:17-18). When we lack food, a house or clothing, they become the object of an earthly concern that approaches despair. But the Lord recommends this to us: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear… All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all… But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil (Mt 6:25-34). This text from the Gospel suggests the correct view of Christian detachment from the goods of this world. It consists in leaving our tomorrow in God’s hands, that is, our future, even though we must do everything in our power to meet our needs and those of others. Do you remember? “You must act as if your prayer were inefficacious and pray as if your action were inefficient” (Saint Ignatius). So we have to accept from God’s mercy, and with gratitude, all the goods which God grants us in this life, but together we have to continue to hope in Him even when these goods are taken away from us; this is another fruit of the virtue of Hope. This is certainly not a disdainful attitude towards earthly goods, but the ability to be detached which gives man back the freedom and the duty to take care of himself and every other man, according to faith and reason. Faith and hope in God’s justice have their expression in love for every man as a brother or sister.

“‘The shrine is the place where the love of God…is constantly made present’;[3] it is up to us to instil hope since we are witnesses to that love.  This is not impossible, but it is not easy or spontaneous.  Precisely God’s love and the support of prayer are needed to truly love our neighbour, to be committed to others and to have solidarity with them in order to achieve a real humanism”[4].

In this life, often characterized by deep restlessness, when hope seems to vacillate and leave space for anguish and despair, pilgrimages and shrines can play an important role in instilling sentiments of hope and a confident wait.  St. Paul said: Scio cui credidi which means, “I know him in whom I have believed and am confident”, (2 Tim 1:12). This is not just any wait, but one directed towards the good, towards something that is good, appreciated and desired: towards the One who is Good. So one learns patience, that is, the power to remain steadfast regardless of the adversity one may experience, and to wait, even for a long time.  Patience, as Pope John said, is the sum of all the virtues. Hope is also humility “which accepts God’s mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness”[5]. Here let us think of the “dark night” of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example.  It is a confident waiting for a free intervention by God that is favourable in our regard.  “Hope that springs from faith in God’s promise becomes the stimulus of thought, its torment and the source of its restlessness”[6].

“Today - dear friends - it is not enough to reawaken hope in the inner depths of individual consciences; it is necessary to cross the threshold of hope together”[7]. I also make this invitation to you and to myself so that pilgrimages will also be organized to the shrines of the Asian countries where Catholicism is a religion of a tiny minority almost everywhere, a small seed in the great field of this very vast continent. Pilgrimages can be occasions to get to know one another better, to give lymph to the places of worship and to make communion and solidarity grow among the communities that form the one Church. This support between members of the family of Christ in Asia must also serve the cause of evangelization and human promotion.

In these days of reflection and prayer, may the Martyrs of Nagasaki also aid us. They offered their lives so that everyone here could believe in the love of the Father, in the saving mission of the Son, and in the infallible guide of the Holy Spirit. I hope that this Congress will make grow the spirit of true sharing, authentic up-dating, profound reflection and intense prayer in order to respond with new resources and fresh energies to the needs of the pilgrims that visit your Shrines. In Christ, may you be “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

And now, Congress participants, let’s get down to work!



"Pèlerinages et sanctuaires : lieux d'espérance" : tel était le thème du IIIème Congrès asiatique des Pèlerinages et Sanctuaires qui s'est tenu à Nagasaki (Japon) du 15 au 17 octobre 2007, organisé par le Conseil pontifical pour la Pastorale des Migrants et des Personnes en Déplacement en collaboration avec l'archidiocèse de Nagasaki. S.E. Mgr Agostino Marchetto, Secrétaire du Dicastère romain, a introduit les travaux, tout d'abord à partir des deux rencontres précédentes : Manille (2003) et Séoul (2005) et a ensuite développé le thème du Congrès. Il a observé que les pèlerins se rendent dans les sanctuaires mus par l'espérance, cette prérogative des êtres humains qui, dans la vision de Péguy, est source d'émerveillement pour Dieu aussi. Mais il ne doit pas y avoir d'équivoque sur ce point en l'identifiant, de façon limitée, aux besoins matériels des hommes nécessitant des réponses immédiates. Dans un pèlerinage, on va à la rencontre de Dieu, source de toute espérance. Et dans ce cheminement vers l'Absolu, un rôle important est celui joué par les agents de la pastorale pour soutenir et guider les fidèles, afin que prière et recueillement occupent la place qui leur est due. Parlant des sanctuaires, Mgr Marchetto a déclaré qu'ils doivent être considérés comme des "stations intermédiaires" de notre itinéraire terrestre, des lieux où nous pouvons retrouver un nouvel élan et une nouvelle vigueur sur la route vers le Royaume que Dieu a promis en plénitude. Dans les sanctuaires, tous les pèlerins, y compris les agents pastoraux qui les accompagnent, sont invités à s'approcher du sacrement de Pénitence, pour se réconcilier avec Dieu, avec eux-mêmes, et à s'ouvrir à autrui dans la charité. Aussi, au cours du pèlerinage et dans les sanctuaires, les fidèles doivent-ils regarder au-delà de ce qui correspond à leurs besoins matériels pour saisir les véritables biens qu'ils doivent rechercher. Le premier bien est la vie, matérielle et spirituelle, qui est un don de Dieu et qui, comme telle, doit être appréciée et aimée. Ceux qui n'aiment pas la vie ne peuvent pas aimer leur prochain, et ils sont donc dans l'impossibilité de faire le bien. Dans les moments d'angoisse et de désespoir, il arrive qu'on oublie l'importance de ce don mais, avec son rappel à la foi et à l'espérance, l'agent de la pastorale pourra apporter la capacité d'avoir la patience et l'humilité d'accepter le mystère de Dieu, en étant pleinement confiants en Lui, même dans l'obscurité. S.E. Mgr Marchetto a conclu son intervention en adressant aux participants un appel afin d'organiser aussi des pèlerinages vers les sanctuaires des pays d'Asie, pour aider les membres de la famille du Christ – dont le nombre est encore exigu dans ce continent – à solidariser entre eux.




Peregrinaciones y Santuarios, lugares de esperanza es el tema del III Congreso Asiático de Peregrinaciones y Santuarios, que tuvo lugar en Nagasaki (Japón) del 15 al 17 de octubre, 2007, organizado por el Pontificio Consejo en colaboración con la arquidiócesis de Nagasaki. El Arzobispo Marchetto introdujo los trabajos, teniendo en cuenta los dos Encuentros anteriores, de Manila (2003) y Seúl (2005), y luego desarrolló el tema del Congreso. Observó que, como peregrinos, nos dirigimos a los santuarios movidos por la esperanza, prerrogativa de los seres humanos, que asombra también a Dios, según la visión de Péguy. Pero no se debe confundir, identificándola de modo limitado con las necesidades materiales humanas que exigen respuestas inmediatas. En la peregrinación, se va al encuentro con Dios, fuente de toda esperanza. En este camino hacia lo Absoluto, el papel de los agentes de pastoral es importante para sostener y guiar a los fieles, de modo que no falten la oración y el debido recogimiento. Hablando, luego, de los santuarios, Mons. Marchetto dijo que se pueden considerar como “estaciones intermedias” de nuestro recorrido terreno, lugares donde se adquiere un nuevo impulso y vigor para seguir el camino hacia el Reino en plenitud prometido por Dios. En los santuarios, todos los peregrinos, incluso los agentes de pastoral que van con ellos, se ven animados a acercarse al sacramento de la penitencia para reconciliarse con Dios, consigo mismos, y abrirse a los demás en la caridad. En la peregrinación, pues, y en el santuario, los fieles deben mirar más allá de lo que consideran que corresponde a sus necesidades materiales para comprender cuáles son los verdaderos bienes que se han de buscar. El primer bien es la vida, material y espiritual, que es un don de Dios y en cuanto tal hay que apreciarla y amarla. El que no ama la vida no puede tener caridad con el prójimo y, por consiguiente, no puede hacer el bien. En los momentos de angustia y desesperación es posible olvidar la importancia de este don, pero la presencia del agente de pastoral, que remite a la fe y a la esperanza, podrá ayudar a tener la paciencia y la humildad de aceptar el misterio de Dios, confiando en Él incluso en medio de la oscuridad. El Arzobispo Marchetto terminó su intervención solicitando a los participantes la organización de peregrinaciones también a los santuarios de los países de Asia, para ayudarse y ser solidarios entre los miembros de la familia de Cristo, todavía muy limitada numéricamente en este continente.


* Address delivered at the III Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines Nagasaki (Japan), on October 15 - 17, 2007.


[1] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee of 2000, No. 27.

[2] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Shrine. Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, No. 13.

[3] Ibid., No. 5.

[4] Cf. Renato Raffaele Martino, Address to the Fifth European Congress of Pilgrimages and Shrines, Lourdes (France), September 10, 2007, No. 5.

[5] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, No. 39.

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, Teologia della speranza, Queriniana, Brescia 1970, p. 26.

[7] John Paul II, Address to the General Audience of Wednesday, November 11, 1998, No. 7.