TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
FOR THE RECTORS AND THE OPERATORS OF THE SANCTUARIES
Thursday, November 29th 2018
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
I was waiting for this moment that allows me to meet many representatives of the countless Shrines scattered in every region of the world. How much we need the Shrines in the daily journey that the Church does! They are the place where our people more willingly gather to express their faith in simplicity, and according to the various traditions that have been learned since childhood. In many ways, our Shrines are irreplaceable because they keep popular piety alive, enriching it with a catechetical formation that sustains and reinforces the faith and nourishes at the same time the testimony of charity. This is very important: keep popular piety alive and do not forget that jewel that is the number 48 of Evangelii nuntiandi, where St. Paul VI changed the name from "popular religiosity" to "popular piety". It's a gem. That is the inspiration of popular piety which, as once said by an Italian bishop, "is the Church's immune system". It saves us from many things.
I thank Archbishop Rino Fisichella for the words with which he introduced our meeting and that offer me the opportunity for some considerations.
I think, first of all, of the importance of hospitality to be reserved for pilgrims. We know that more and more often our Sanctuaries are a destination not of organized groups, but of individual pilgrims or autonomous groups who set out to reach these holy places. It is sad when it happens that, on their arrival, there is no one to give them a word of welcome and welcome them as pilgrims who have made a journey, often long, to reach the Sanctuary. And uglier still is when they find the door closed! It can not happen that more attention is paid to material and financial needs, forgetting that the most important reality is the pilgrims. They are the ones that count. The bread comes later, but first them. Toward each of them we must be careful to make sure that he feels "at home", like a family long awaited who has finally arrived.
We must also consider that many people visit the Sanctuary because it belongs to the local tradition; sometimes because his works of art are an attraction; or because it is located in a natural environment of great beauty and charm. These people, when they are welcomed, become more open to opening their hearts and allowing it to be shaped by grace. A climate of friendship is a fertile seed that our Shrines can throw into the soil of the pilgrims, allowing them to rediscover that trust in the Church that sometimes may have been disappointed by an indifference received.
The Sanctuary is above all - second thing - place of prayer. Most of our shrines are dedicated to Marian piety. Here the Virgin Mary opens the arms of her maternal love to listen to everyone's prayer and to fulfill it. The feelings that every pilgrim feels in the most profound of the heart are those that he finds also in the Mother of God. Here she smiles giving consolation. Here you shed tears with those who cry. Here he presents to each one the Son of God held tight in his arms as the most precious good that every mother possesses. Here Mary becomes the street companion of every person who raises her eyes asking for a grace, certain to be granted. The Virgin responds to all with the intensity of her gaze, which the artists have been able to paint often guided in turn from above in contemplation.
About the prayer in the Shrines I would like to underline two requirements. First of all, to encourage the prayer of the Church that makes salvation present and efficacious with the celebration of the sacraments. This allows anyone present in the Shrine to feel part of a larger community that from every part of the earth professes the only faith, witnesses the same love and lives the same hope. Many Shrines have arisen precisely because of the prayer request that the Virgin Mary has addressed to the seer, so that the Church never forgets the words of the Lord Jesus to pray without interruption (cf. Lk 18: 1) and to remain always vigilant in waiting for the his return (cf. Mk 14:28).