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Pilgrim Sites strategic for New Evangelization, says Church Official

Archbishop Vegliò: No Opportunity Can Be Neglected

ROME, JUNE 6, 2011 - Among the tools to make the new evangelization a reality, shrines and pilgrimage sites can have a key role, says one Vatican official.

Archbishop Antonio Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, offered this proposal Friday in an address on “The Role of Sanctuaries in the New Evangelization in Europe.” The archbishop was on a six-day tour of Hungary, at the invitation of Bishop János Székely, a Hungarian episcopal conference official for ministry to migrants and travelers.

Archbishop Vegliò recalled guidelines proposed by Benedict XVI in aletterto the 2nd World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Pilgrimages and Shrines, held at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in September 2010.

The archbishop illustrated five ideas from the Pontiff's message: emphasizing the attractiveness of pilgrimages; welcoming pilgrims; being sensitive to questions; being faithful to the religious character of a pilgrimage; and helping the pilgrim to discover that his journey has a valuable goal.

He first noted how Benedict XVI speaks of pilgrimages as an occasion that gathers "pilgrims and religious tourists, some of whom are in complicated human and spiritual situations, somewhat distant from living the faith and with a weak ecclesial affiliation."

The Pontiff also wrote that "it can never be stressed enough that shrines should be lighthouses of charity, with unceasing dedication to the neediest through concrete works of solidarity and mercy."

Archbishop Vegliò noted how a shrine marked by charity brings pilgrims to feel welcomed by God "because he is welcomed by brothers."

"Every pilgrim merits all the attention that can be given to him," the archbishop said. "In the measure possible, he must be welcomed as an individual, at the personal level, given that it is his happiness itself in being called that is at stake."

Since the large number of pilgrims often does not permit a personalized welcome, "the other three elements have particular importance," the archbishop proposed.

He highlighted the importance of dignified liturgies and an environment of respect and recollection, as well as space that is "adequate and hospitable."

The prelate encouraged avoiding a "perception of commercialization in the sacred space" and encouraged "the qualified preparation of priests who exercise the ministry of the Word and reconciliation."

All of this, Archbishop Vegliò indicated, is part of a pastoral plan in which bishops' conferences have an important role.

Ministry linked to pilgrimages and shrines must be fit within "the broader effort of evangelization," the Vatican official declared.

Spiritual meaning

Archbishop Vegliò reflected on pilgrimages in light of the fundamental questions of life.

Man today "does not find the answers to the questions of life in Christ, and not so much because he rejects Christ, but because he does not seek answers, he does not ask himself about his existence, he is not concerned to give it meaning," the prelate stated. "The answer that we offer, so that it might be meaningful, must be in line with the questions of the heart. To the profound questions, faith presents itself as the answer that interprets them and fills them with significance."

Archbishop Vegliò further emphasized the importance of giving pilgrimages a truly Christian character.

"Independently of the motivations that lead a person to undertake a pilgrimage or to visit a shrine, we cannot hide the fact that at the base, there is a spiritual meaning," he said. "The true aim of the pilgrimage is not the pilgrimage itself, nor a concrete place, but the encounter with God through Jesus Christ, in whom all our aspirations find a response."

Back home

The archbishop then touched on another important element that was discussed in September: going back home and returning to ordinary life.

"The return is not a mere going back," he said. "In some way the experience that the pilgrim had has changed him and it will mark his return to quotidian existence. The believer intuits that the return is also part of the pilgrimage."

Archbishop Vegliò recommended that shrines make the return a ritual, "a sending out of the pilgrim to live his life in a Christian way," inviting him to join a particular Christian community or to strengthen bonds with it, and to "bear witness to what he experienced."

"In this historical period we cannot neglect any opportunity to evangelize," the prelate concluded, and visiting a shrine can be an "occasion of renewal of faith and of first evangelization too." (Roberta Sciamplicotti) 



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