This morning Pope Benedict XVI began his seventh trip outside of Italy on a good note saying that he “felt at home” in Austria. The pontiff’s trip is in Austria to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the Marian shrine at Mariazell, the most important shrine in central Europe.
The Holy Father departed Rome this morning at 9:50 am local time and arrived in Vienna two hours later. Upon landing, the Pope was greeted by Heinz Fischer, president of the Republic of Austria, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn O.P., the archbishop of Vienna and the melodious welcome of a children’s choir.
In his opening speech, the Pope gave his listeners a clue as to why he feels so at home in Austria. "The culture of this country," he said, "is deeply imbued with the message of Jesus Christ and the activity which the Church has carried out in His name."
He also praised the virtues that the Austrian shrine brings to life saying, “[t]his Marian sanctuary in some way represents the maternal heart of Austria…It symbolizes an openness which not only transcends physical and national frontiers, but, in the person of Mary, reminds us of an essential dimension of human beings: their capacity for openness to God and His word of truth.”
The pontiff joined himself to this openness to God by expressing his desire to be a pilgrim as well. "I would like, during these three days here in Austria, to go as a pilgrim to Mariazell" on "a journey made in the company of all the pilgrims of our time. ... Mariazell does not only represent 850 years of history, but shows us on the basis of that history, the way to the future."
Pope Benedict finished his speech by calling on all pilgrims to make the act of pilgrimage a part of their everyday life as many Austrians do.
He noted how “in Austria many people, on Sunday, the day of rest from work, and also during their free time on other days of the week, engage in volunteer activities and service to others. Such commitment, offered generously and disinterestedly for the welfare of others, also marks the pilgrimage of our life."
As most pilgrims know, every pilgrimage contains difficulties and this one proved no different for the Pope as his speech was cut short by microphone difficulties.
CNA is providing daily coverage of the Pope's visit to Austria. Resources can be found here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/austria07/index.html