In a letter to participants at an international conference examining pastoral activity at pilgrimages and shrines this week, the Holy Father emphasized the importance of urging pilgrims to encounter and imitate Christ.
A message sent by the Holy Father this month to guide the Second World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Shrines and Pilgrimages was distributed by the Vatican's council for migrants on Monday. The congress is taking place in Santiago de Compostela, Spain from Sept. 27-30 under the theme taken from the road to Emmaus, "He entered to remain with them."
Calling their pastoral work "fundamental" to the ecclesial life, Pope Benedict wrote to participants that since the beginning of his pontificate he also has intended to live his ministry with the feelings of the hope and simplicity of a pilgrim and with the Gospel message "on his lips." The pilgrim's conch on his coat of arms, he said, is an "explicit sign of this mission."
In the strong call to evangelize the world, he said, the "richness that springs" from pilgrimages and shrines is emphasized. He highlighted their "extraordinary capacity" to call people back to the faith, saying "(a)s Simeon found Jesus in the temple, in the same way also the pilgrim must have the opportunity to discover the Lord in the shrine."
Benedict XVI implored pilgrims not to forget that shrines are sacred and to be treated with devotion and respect. Of those who host pilgrims, he asked that they do so with "great scrupulosity." The shrines of the world "must be lighthouses of charity," he said, "incessantly dedicated to the most disadvantaged through concrete works of solidarity and mercy and a constant willingness to listen."
There, access to confession and Mass must be ensured, he said, calling the Eucharist the "food of the pilgrim" and the central point of all pastoral activity. The encounter with God, he added, ever the goal of the pilgrim, finds its "culmination" in the Eucharist.
He concluded by exhorting participants in the world congress to encourage pilgrims "to awareness and imitation of Christ, who continues to walk with us, illuminated our lives with his Word and distributing the Bread of Life in the Eucharist.
"In such a way," he said, "the pilgrimage to the shrine will be a propitious occasion to reinvigorate ... the desire to share with others the marvelous experience of knowing themselves to be loved by God and to be sent to the world to bear witness to this love."
Noting the inspiration of congress' scope in these words from the Holy Father, in his opening discourse for the congress, Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò posed the Pope's words as guidelines to help participants' reflections and "deepen the evangelization potential of pilgrimages."