More than 12,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s square to hear Pope Benedict XVI deliver the Wednesday audience. The Holy Father recalled his recent pastoral visit to Austria to commemorate the 850th anniversary of the shrine of Mariazell, a visit, he said, "that was above all a pilgrimage on the theme of 'looking to Christ,' that is, of going towards Mary who shows us Jesus."
The Pontiff said that he wanted “to pause and reflect on my pastoral visit, which I have had the joy of completing in these past days in Austria.” The Holy Father noted his closeness with the country both because it borders his native Germany, and because of many points of contact he has had with it.
The main purpose of the visit was a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Mariazell, on its 850th anniversary. The venerable statue of Our Lady pointing to her infant Son inspired the theme of the visit (to look to Christ).
Benedict commented on the importance of this moment of his pilgrimage: “It was only when we arrived at the sanctuary that we fully understood the sense of that motto: to look to Christ. In front of us was the statue of the Madonna, who with one hand points to the child Jesus, and up above the altar of the Basilica, the Crucified Christ.”
He continued: “There our pilgrimage had reached its goal: we have contemplated the face of God in that Child in the arms of Mary and in that Man with his arms wide open. To look to Jesus with the eyes of Mary means to encounter God-Love, who for us became man and died on the cross.”
In meeting with the President and the Diplomatic Corps, Benedict “expressed the Church’s support for global efforts to foster peace and authentic development, and I encouraged the process of Europe’s unification on the basis of values inspired by its shared Christian heritage.”
Explaining this statement, the Holy Father remarked: “How can we forget that Europe is the bearer of a tradition of thought that links faith, reason, and sentiment? Illustrious philosophers, even independently of the faith, have recognized the central role Christianity has played in protecting the modern conscience from nihilistic and fundamentalist tendencies.”
Benedict remarked how, “At the end of my journey, I met with representatives of Austria’s impressive network of volunteer organizations and expressed appreciation for their generosity to others.”
Benedict ended his address on a hopeful note regarding the church in Austria: “Throughout my visit, I saw the vitality of the Church, which, in today’s Europe, is called "to look to Christ" ever anew, as she carries out her mission in service of the Gospel and the true progress of the human family.”
In its coverage of the papal trip, the secular press seemed to think that support for the faith and the Pope were lacklustre. However, they failed to take into account the rural setting of Mariazell, its accessibility only by bus and train, since automobiles were banned, the poor weather and the intentional limiting of the crowd size by using tickets for the main events.