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Apostolic Journey to Austria on the occasion of the 850th anniversary of the foundation of the Shrine of Mariazell (September 7-9, 2007)

The Significance of the Mariazell Pilgrimage Basilica
Hardly any other pilgrimage site in the world can look back on such an impressive past.
Source: basilika-mariazell.at

According to records, Mariazell was founded on December 21, 1157. An inscription above the main portal, giving the date 1200, means that we can assume that the building of the Romanesque chapel began at this time. The first documentary evidence of 'Cell' is from the year 1243. A letter of indulgence, dated 1330, from Archbishop Friedrich III of Salzburg, is given as the source for the Church of Our Beloved Lady of Cell as a much visited place of pilgrimage. By 1344 the community had received the rights of a market town.

Of great importance for Mariazell was the awarding of a plenary indulgence by Pope Boniface IX in 1399. It was granted for the week following the octave of the Assumption of the Virgin and led to the cultivation of penitential rites and processions, which continued after the indulgence was revoked and are documented well into the baroque period. The stream of pilgrims constantly increased.

There were already around two dozen stalls for the sale of votive offerings by around 1400, and approximately one-hundred years later Maria­zell was known internationally as a place of pilgrimage. Pilgrims from the regions of what are today Bavaria, Bohemia, France, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, but above all, Austria and Hungary, were even then actively seeking the help of the Mariazell Mother of Mercy.

Mariazell enjoyed a special heyday after the end of the Counter Reformation as a national shrine of the House of Habsburg, which not only placed its personal fate under the protection of Mariazell, but the entire country and its inhabitants. The example given by the ruling family moved the members of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, and finally the peasantry, to make pilgrimages to Mariazell.

The Gothic church could no longer accommodate the great number of pilgrims and Abbot Benedikt Pierin of Saint Lambrecht decided upon a baroque expansion that gave the church its characteristic appearance.

The bestowal of city status in 1948 was not due to the size of the com­munity, but its importance as an ecclesiastical and cultural centre acknowl­edged far beyond the borders of Austria. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, it is now possible for pilgrims from Austria's neighbouring countries to the south and east to again come unhindered to Mariazell.

With inhabitants numbering only 2000, one can nevertheless assume over one million pilgrims and visitors will come to Mariazell annually.

The Shrine of Mariazell - geographical position and origin

On 8 September 2007 during his apostolic journey to Austria Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Marian Shrine of Mariazell. With Vienna and the Monastery of Heiligenkreuz, the Shrine will be the third lap of his Austrian journey. The Holy Father with his visit will join the host of pilgrims who have venerated the Mother of God in this place since the year 850.  

Historische Ansicht von Mariazell, ca. 1900In its long history Mariazell, Austria’s marian Shrine, has drawn pilgrims from all over central Europe. The present day little town of 2000 inhabitants welcomes every year over one million pilgrims and visitors. From every direction under the heavens, roads and footpaths lead over the mountains to this holy place. Mariazell lies in the north eastern part of Steiermark (Obersteiermark), close to the border with land of Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) - circa 160 km from Vienna . The Marian Shrine is the last station of the Mariazellerbahn, a narrow-track railway running about 85 km from St. Pölten to Mariazell. The railway, completed in the year 1907, has to climb a 700m difference in height.  It demonstrates that in the 19th century Mariazell was one
of the most visited places in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In those times neither trouble nor expenses were spared, to lead the pilgrim to the Mother of God of Mariazell. However today it is still true that Mariazell lies in the mountains. The main motorways bypass Mariazell. Still today a visit to this Shrine demands love for Mary and a conscious decision.

Mariazell celebrates this year the 850th Jubilee Year of its establishment. Few shrines in Europe can boast of such a long history. This is how Mariazell came to be : in the year 1157 Abbot Otker of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Lambrecht sent one of his monks, Monk Magnus, to the Mariazell area, land which belonged to the monastery. The Monk was to care for the souls of the local people. With the permission of the Abbot Magnus carried with him on the long journey his limewood statue of the Blessed Virgin Mother and Child. In the evening of 21 December as he was nearing his destination he found his path blocked by a huge bolder. Magnus prayed to the Blessed Mother for help, the rock split open and his path was free. On reaching his destination, the Monk placed the statue on a tree trunk and began to build a "cell", which would serve both as a chapel and as a shelter for himself. Maria in the Cell gave the place its name. That memorable day 21 December 1157, the day on which Monk Magnus and the Blessed Mother arrived in Mariazell, is mentioned in a document of Pope Hadrian IV (1100 – 1159, Brakespear the only English Pope). The statue of the Blessed Mother and Child became the famous miraculous image, still venerated today of "Magna Mater Austriae", Great Mother of Austria.

unknownThe Miraculous image of Mariazell

The Miraculous image of Mariazell is a 48cm wooden figure. Our Lady is seated, with her right hand she holds the Child close to her and with the left offers him a pear, the Child offers his Mother an apple. Perhaps the statue inspired Rupert von Deutz (circa 1075 - 1129/30) who, in the history of salvation, saw Eve related with Mary and the fruits as representations of sin and redemption. In his comment on the Canticle of Canticles he writes: “May He come into my garden and eat of the fruits of my trees; not like Eve invited her companion I invite my Beloved. She invited her companion to eat of the apple which did not belong to her, an unknown and prohibited fruit. I invite my Beloved to eat the fruits not of unknown trees but of his own trees; the fruit he refers to when he says: my food is to do the will of my Father.“ Thus the fruit which Mary offers the Child is not an unknown and prohibited fruit which led to sin, instead it is the fruit of His own trees: the pear is the symbol of the Father's will. And the Child offers an apple, symbol of the Fall, but, redeemed by Him, a pledge of redemption.

GnademutterThe Image of the Mother and Child can only be seen on three days in the year: on Good Friday, on the birthday of Our Lady (8 September) and on the foundation day (21 December). The rest of the year the Mother and Child are clothed in a rich garment in the colour proper to season of the Liturgical Year, often enhanced with precious lace, stones and pearls. Marienkleider (Marian-Gowns) , also called Liebfrauenkleider (Our Lady's Gowns), usually sewn by ladies of the nobility, have embellished the miraculous statue since 1500. Some are hand sewn by the benefactors in precious material not rarely the fabric of their own wedding gowns. Very often the women were moved by a desire to be in closer contact with the venerated statue. Most of the garments used today were made and offered in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. The image also has several votive crowns, one for Our Lady and a smaller one for the Child Jesus. In 1908 the statue was solemnly crowned with tiaras blessed by Pope Pius X donated by the primate of Hungary , Cardinal Alexander Rudnay (1760 – 1831). Among the more recent votive crowns are two donated by Otto and Regina von Hapsburg.

The Cell becomes a Shrine for Slavs and Hungarians

The first famous pilgrims to visit Mariazell were the Margrave Vladislav Henry of Moravia (1160 – 1222) and his bride. Saint Wenceslaw ordered them to go to Mariazell and they were cured of a serious form of gout. As an act of thanksgiving in 1200 the Margrave had a Romansque style chapel built around the Cell. Today a plaque above the main door recalls the year of construction 1200. So it was the Margrave of Moravia who built the first church for Our Lady of Mariazell with the title Mater Gentium Slavorum (Mother of the Slav Peoples) and proclaimed the message of her miraculous help throughout the Slav speaking regions. The gothic period also left its mark : in 1340 the gothic choir was built, in 1360 the splendid hall with three naves. The building of the gothic church is connected with King Louis I of Hungary (1326 – 1382) . He contributed greatly to the inter-regional fame of Mariazell. Once again a grateful generous heart honoured the Mother of God: King Louis won a victory in 1365 in the name of the Mother of God over a numerically superior Osman cavalry attack. According to legend the night before the battle he prayed in front of his precious Marian icon. The next morning he awoke to find the icon on his breast. He set out for battle and triumphed in the name of Mary. As an act of thanksgiving he went on pilgrimage to Mariazell leaving there his miraculous icon which is today on the altar of the treasury. To King Louis we owe the miraculous chapel built there in 1370. Mariazell, through their King, began to be loved also by the people of Hungary who venerated Mary her as Magna Hungarorum Domina (Great Lady of Hungary): as time passed the Marian shrine became the most important destination for Hungarian pilgrims. As no other Shrine, miraculous Mariazell is a point of reference for the Catholic peoples of central and eastern Europe. The two princes– the Slav Vladislav Henry and the Hungarian Louis I – represented in life size figures greet the pilgrims from the gothic doors. The place is the spiritual heart of the Catholic peoples of the Danube region. The history of pilgrimages to Mariazell is part of the history of the Christian west.

Mariazell in the period of Catholic Counter-Reformation

Die Basilika von MariazellOf the Gothic building there remain the central tower and the nave, modified in baroque style. The whole church underwent a significant change: Catholicism, strengthened after the counter reformation, and baroque popular devotion, led numerous pilgrims to Mariazell in the 17th century and Mariazell flourished as the national shrine of the Hapsburg Sovereigns who put not only their own destiny but also that of the land and the people under the protection of Our Lady of Mariazell. Many significant gifts were offered by the imperial House: the gates of the miraculous altar were a gift of Empress Maria-Theresia (1717 - 1780) who often came with her children to visit Mariazell. The example of the royal family led noble and middle class families and lastly also the peasantry to make pilgrimages to Mariazell. The gothic church could not hold such great numbers of pilgrims so the Benedictine Abbot Pierin of St. Lambrecht (1638 – 1662) decided to undertake a baroque expansion which gave the church its present day characteristic aspect. This was made possible thanks to the support of Emperor Ferdinand III (1608-1657) . Plans for restructuring and rebuilding were of the architect of the monastery of St. Lambrecht Deomenico Sciassia (1559/1603-1679). Work on the baroque expansion lasted from 1644 for 50 years under the Benedictine Abbots Pierin and Franz von Kaltenhausen (1662-1707). unknownThe gothic pillars were covered and the vaults were decorated with stucco work and frescoes. Later a series of side chapels with overhead galleries were added. With harmony the old and the new were combined. Initially Domenico Sciassia planned to restructure the central gothic tower and have a baroque facade with three towers. Out of respect for the great significance of Mariazell for the Hungarians, King Louis I had built the gothic tower, his plan was put aside and thus we have the characteristic facade Mariazell with the gothic tower in the centre - today its unmistakable symbol. The basilica of Mariazell is an example of a successful combination of different architectural styles and artistic epochs to honour Our Lady and for the glory of God.

The east gothic choir had to be completely demolished in 1654 to make room for a sequence of baroque spaces. For the renovation of the church the architect Domenico Sciassia and his commissioner the Abbot drew inspiration from a visit to Rome . This inspiration encouraged them to build the largest dome north of the Alps (10 x 15,14 x 50 m). The miraculous chapel with the statue of the Blessed Mother and Child is today in the exact centre of the church which as at Einsiedeln and Loreto was built around it. The church is 84m long and 30 m wide. Domenico Sciassia died in 1679 at Mariazell four years before his work was completed. He was buried in the south side nave. With the consecration of the main altar on 31 August 1704 by Abbot Franz von Kaltenhausen from St. Lambrecht monastery, the baroque renovation of the basilica was completed. The most famous artists of the day had created the splendid interior decorating and made the church one of the most beautiful baroque buildings of Christian art. The Magna Mater Austriae, the Great Miraculous Mother of Austria, is today more than ever the symbol of unswerving Christian faith. In 1907 the church was elevated to the rank of a minor basilica. This was followed by the papal crowning of the miraculous statue by the Nuncio. Pilgrimages to Mariazell have continued without ceasing. Mariazell is still one of central Europe 's most important Marian shrines. On the occasion of the 850 th anniversary of its foundation in 2007, fifteen years of extensive renovation work made possible by generous donations by thousands of benefactors was completed. The shrine is now ready to welcome Pope Benedict XVI illustrious visitor and pilgrim.

Not spared in times of disaster

Mariazell has always shared the destiny and history of the people and the nation. In 1420 the Turks advanced from the east reaching Mariazell for the first time, setting fire to the village and to the church. In 1532 once again Turkish troops reached Mariazell and set fire to a number of homes. In 1683, the year when the Turks occupied Vienna, fearing another Turkish invasion the miraculous statue and the icon in the treasury donated by King Louis of Hungary, were taken to St. Lambrecht but then returned within the same year.

The history of this central European shrine was affected by the spirit of the times. A severe blow for Mariazell was the closing of the mother monastery of St. Lambrecht from 1786 to 1802 under Kaiser Joseph II (1741-1790). Of the 915 monasteries and convents in the German speaking region closed in 1782, only 388 remained. Shrines, lands, chapels, abbeys and monasteries, and sacred furnishings were assigned to the Religion Foundation which was to serve for pedagogical and social purposes. Until then the monastery of St. Lambrecht was the owner of Mariazell and the surrounding lands. The reforms undertaken by Kaiser Joseph had a direct effect on Mariazell: pilgrimages initially hampered were soon prohibited. For the miraculous image of Mariazell a ban on the rite of clothing was imposed in 1786 and only lifted in 1797 by Kaiser Franz II (1768 – 1835). However things changed. From 1796 onwards people began to come every year from Vienna to Mariazell. What appeared to be inopportune with regard to the spirit of the times and was hindered by laws and bans, became a source of new life. So Mariazell stands as a symbol of Christian Europe against dangers from outside (the threat of the Turks) and from within (the threat of the spirit of the Enlightenment).
Mariazell was not spared the effects of war. For example the Shrine was ordered by the government authorities to hand over its silver to fund the war against France in 1800. Many artistic works had to be given to the foundries. During World War I copper roofs had to be consigned.
In the course of history many disasters struck the village and the Shrine: on the occasion of the great fire in 1827 which reduced the entire village to embers, the church was also seriously damaged. The roof and tiling of the three towers were completely destroyed and the bells melted. However most of the interior of the church was saved. The whole monarchy contributed together for the work of repair.

Covered in gifts by grateful hearts

The Basilica was built thanks to gifts large and small offered to the Mother of God at Mariazell by grateful members of the faithful and with the contribution of many important artists of different epochs. Margrave Vladislav Henry of Moravia and King Louis I of Hungary laid the foundation with the construction of the Romanesque and the Gothic church in the 13th and 14th centuries. unknownTo follow, a host of faithful who wished to demonstrate their gratitude: one important sign is the high altar donated in thanksgiving by Emperor Charles VI (1685 – 1740). It was built to a plan of Johann Bernard Fischer from Erlach and consecrated in 1704. The high altar at Mariazell belongs to the early works of high baroque style. This impressive artistic representation of the Most Holy Trinity drew great admiration as soon as it was completed. Fischer from Erlach himself said of it, not without pride, ... a work such, as not many are found...“ . Above the altar table sculptured from one block of stone, the tabernacle, a silver globe of the earth; around it a snake the symbol of sin. Above this a representation of the miraculous throne. The figures of God the Father and Christ in silver. The figures of Mary and St John as well as those of two angels in prayer are not the original ones which had to be consigned in 1806 to support the war against the French. A year later they were replaced with classic silver plate wooden statues. The whole scene is framed by a monumental triumphal arch surmounted by the glory of heaven with the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove and hosts of angels.

The miraculous altar of the miraculous chapel which contains the statue of the Mother and Child is by Joseph Emanuel (1693 – 1742) the son of Johann Bernard Fischer from Erlach. In 1756 on the occasion of the 600 th Jubilee year as she had promised during a pilgrimage three years earlier Empress Maria Theresia donated the rich silver gates. The most important artists of the times created an interior decoration which made the church one of the most beautiful baroque buildings of Christian art.

The Basilica of Mariazell has about 2500 votive images the largest collection of its kind in all Austria.  Among them some 510 paintings on canvas, wood or metal plate, 860 prints with messages, 340 other images, framed photographs with messages, marble plaques and etchings. The collection also includes 3200 votive offerings – wedding rings, jewels, bride's veils, rosaries as well as “treasure pieces” in gold, silver and precious stones. A greater part of votive objects at Mariazell in silver and wax had to be fused. The baroque period saw a flourishing of pilgrimage customs and donations of votive images and objects. According to reliable, sources between the years 1600 and 1780 thousands of votive images were carried to Mariazell. The fact that today only about 20 votive images of the 17 th and 18 th centuries remain, is due mainly to the bans issued by Kaiser Joseph II (1780 -1790) and the fire in 1827 when the basilica was seriously damaged. Therefore it is no wonder that the votive images found at Mariazell today are almost all 19 th and 20 th century. They are preserved in the galleries and reflect many different needs and the creativity of many grateful hearts. The shrine with its donations and votive objects is an eloquent testimony of the fact that the sentiment of gratitude needs to be expressed.

An international shrine

The first documented mention of Zell dates to 1243. Various other later documents demonstrate that Mariazell was already famous: in 1330 the Church of Our Lady of Zell was documented in a certificate of indulgence from the Bishop of Salzburg Frederick III as a frequently visited shrine. Already in 1344 the village was given market rights. Most important for Mariazell was the granting of a plenary indulgence by Pope Boniface IX in 1399. It was granted for the week following the octave of the Feast of the Assumption and led to rites of penance and processions which were retained even after the abolition of the indulgence and are documented up to the baroque period. Meanwhile the flow of pilgrims continued to grow.

By 1400 there were already two dozen stalls selling votive objects and a hundred years later Mariazell had become an international Shrine. Pilgrims from regions today known as Bavaria, Bohemia, France, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and above all Austria and Hungary came seeking the help of the miraculous Mother of God at Mariazell. Around the year 1500 documentation shows that pilgrims came here from 16 different countries and lands. This multilingual character has not changed. The availability of guide-books and confessors in many different languages is an expression of this.

The fall of the Iron Curtain enabled once again pilgrims from countries east and south of Austria to reach Mariazell. In 1990 a pilgrimage of 'thanks and freedom' brought 25,000 pilgrims to the Shrine from former eastern block states. The Shrine lived an historical “pilgrimage of peoples” on 24 May 2004: a few weeks after the enlargement of the European Union, some 100,000 pilgrims come from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria to celebrate at Mariazell the central event of Central Europe's 'Catholics Day'. Much of Austrian and European history has been and will always be connected with Mariazell. The crowning point of the history of Mariazell was without a doubt the visit by Pope John Paul II on 13 September 1983 . For Hungarians, although a distant church in a country with a different language, Mariazell has been the most important Marian Shrine for 500 years now.

Copies of the statue of Our Lady of Mariazell are found in many places. It is practically impossible to make a list of all the places where a statue of Our Lady of Mariazell is venerated. There are statues in various parts of Austria, in churches in neighboring coutries, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany in Poland and overseas. In the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire when Mariazell was a shrine of the monarchy, the request was especially great. In those times statues in wood or silver were produced by the thousand at Augsburg and Eger . They were made to order in all different sizes.

The houses of Benedictine Monks, responsible for the Shrine for centuries, are always open and hospitable. Besides the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Austria also the Bishops of Hungary and the Czech Republic have chosen this traditional Marian Shrine for their annual assemblies.

In the frame of 'Shrines of Europe' initiative, Mariazell since 1996 is united with five other Marian Shrines: Altötting ( Germany ), Czestokowa ( Poland ), Fatima ( Portugal ), Loreto ( Italy ), Lourdes ( France ). Since 6 May 2002 Mariazell has been twinned with Esztergom in Hungary , the Bishop's See of Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty whose tomb was in the Basilica of Mariazell for 16 years.

Two famous pilgrims at Mariazell

From 1975 to 1991 Mariazell preserved the tomb of Cardinal Joseph Mindszentys (1892 – 1975) before he was at last laid to rest in the then liberated Esztergom. The Cardinal of Budapest was, after 1945, the symbol of resistance against Communism in Hungary . After a public trial in 1949 which condemned him to life imprisonment and after the suppression of the Hungarian revolt by the Red Army in 1956, he took refuge at the American embassy in Budapest and then fled in 1971 to live in exile in Vienna. In his will the Cardinal asked for his earthly remains to be buried at Mariazell and moved to Esztergom only when, "the star of Moscow's atheism has fallen from the heavens of Mary and Saint Stephen” . This happened after the withdrawal of the occupying troops on 4 May 1991 . His tomb stone at Mariazell bears this inscription in Latin: vita humiliavit - mors exaltavit, (in life humiliated, in death exalted).

In 1983 Pope John Paul II made his first apostolic visit to Austria to commemorate the year 1683 when the numerically superior troops of the Osman Empire laid siege to Vienna.  Pope John Paul II recalled the history of Austria in the heart of Europe whose destiny it shared and influenced in a special way. In his homily during Vespers at Heldenplatz in Vienna on 10 September 1983 he spoke of the multiplicity of peoples who lived side by side in a small area, not without tension, but forging with creativity their multiplicity into unity. On the territory of present day small Austria – the Pope recalled – remain deeply impressed and still alive among the people the traits of Celts and Romans, Germanic and Slav peoples. This Austria, for the Pope, was the mirror and model for Europe. However what contributed greatly to unity in diversity of the continent of Europe was the diffusion of the Christian faith. This strengthened the defenders with them courage filling and the certainty that they were fighting not only for freedom of their own country but for the whole of Europe and Christendom. Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his visit reminded Christians of today of their responsibility to rediscover their profound common spiritual roots “The spiritual battle to live in peace and freedom demands the same heroic effort and courage, the same readiness for sacrifice, the same strength to resist with which your fathers at that time saved Vienna and Europe! Let us take this decision and let us entrust it to the symbol of the Cross of Christ, the Lord of all history because his Cross is truly hope and salvation!” Europe 's common cultural heritage cannot be understood without the contents of the Christian message. This Christian culture amalgamated in a wonderful way with the ancient spirit forms a common heritage to which Europe owes its richness and its strength, the flourishing of art and science, of education and research, philosophy and theology. In the framework of the heritage of the faith it was the Christian vision of man which impressed itself on European culture.

Pilgrimages – said Pope John Paul II – promoted "reciprocal comprehension among peoples and nations so different and thus helped to form the identity of Europe . Precisely here in Mariazell…for centuries there came Christians from all over Europe and not last from Slav countries. I myself, Polish and Roman, am happy to be here as a pilgrim today in Mariazell."

Pope Benedict XVI and Mariazell

Papa Benedict XVI will be in Mariazell on 8 September 2007, the feast of the Nativity of Mary and the feast day of the Shrine. In an interview Castelgandolfo on 5 August 2006 when asked if he was planning to visit Austria the following year the Pope said: " Yes it is planned. I promised this perhaps rather lightly. I liked the place so much that I said: yes I will return to Magna Mater Austriae. And that was immediately a promise which I will keep and will keep gladly.“

Already on 2 October 2004 the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger visited Mariazell. On that occasion he said: " I am so happy to have the chance for the first time in my life to see Mariazell. This has always been my wish: to see, to visit, to pray at the great Shrine of the Magna Mater Austriae. The invitation…to this Mass was the longed for opportunity, at last to come over the Alps to encounter here in this place the Mother of God and the people who love her. I am overwhelmed by the magnificence of the Basilica. I had in my mind the picture of the three towers, but had never seen the interior and am astonished. Our equivalent is Alt ö tting, which presents itself quite differently and is smaller, as far as the church is concerned. I was surprised then by the wealth presented here, but also by the modest and lovable character of the miraculous image .“

To prepare for the papal visit the Vatican sent the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ, to Austria . At a press conference in Vienna on the Papal Visit in September he said: "Every Papal Visit in which I have taken part so far has been a 'great' journey. I experienced this already with John Paul II when we used to speak of 'little visits' which always turned out to be 'great' experiences. In fact the Pope's words are always addressed to the whole world”. Fr Lombardi recalled Pope Benedict XVI's special connection with Austria . The Pope who grew up just across the border in Bavaria , before he was elected, visited Austria many times, on theological missions and on holiday. The Holy Father's cultural patrimony is described by his closest collaborators in the Vatican “the Pope from near Salzburg ”. Jesuit Father Lombardi is aware of the importance Benedict XVI gives to Mariazell: "We know the place is important for the Pope… he says he loves Mariazell. When the official invitation arrived he could not refuse. The place is of special significance for him, we all realise this.“

Archbishop Piero Marini, the Papal Master of Ceremonies, said in Vienna , with regard to the Pope's visit: "This journey has the same purpose as all journeys undertaken by the successors of Peter, to strengthen the brothers and sisters in the faith. However this journey is also of a special character: it is a pilgrimage. The Pope joins the numerous pilgrims who have come here since the second half of the 12 th century to venerate the miraculous Image at Mariazell and also those who still revere this tradition today”.

The visit by Pope Benedict XVI

As motto for the Papal Visit the Austrian Bishops have chosen the words : "Contemplating Christ" . The visit by Pope Benedict XVI is seen as a call to contemplate Christ together with the successor of Peter, said Cardinal Schönborn. He sees the papal visit to Austria as a "sign of appreciation and love" for the country. The Cardinal said that although the papal visit is an "event" it must also be “spiritual experience”. To contemplate Christ means to contemplate the Church. " Christ cannot be separated from his Church. We must look for the Church's wrinkles and spots first of all in ourselves, because we are the Church.” Also the Bishop of Steir, Bishop Egon Kapellari, in whose diocese Mariazell is situated, renewed on the Feast of Corpus Christi this year his warm invitation to take part in Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to Mariazell on 8 September. Referring to the motto the Bishop recalled that many people long to see Jesus. It is the task of the Church and of “every committed Christian” to show Jesus to others. The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said at the end of his life that all he had said and all he had written, his whole life was moved simply by a desire to " point to Christ ". The Bishops said that despite many attempts to restrict the faith to private life, Christians must come out into the open.

In preparation for the historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI the Bishops have encouraged Austria's Catholics to pray the Holy Father's own prayer written at the end of his encyclical Deus caritas est: Holy Mary, Mother of God, you have given the world its true light, Jesus, your Son – the Son of God. You abandoned yourself completely to God's call and thus became a wellspring of the goodness which flows forth from him. Show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him, so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world”. (42)

Magna Mater Austriae, Magna Domina Hungarorum, Mater Gentium Slavorum – pray for us!

Source: Agenzia Fides
Fr. Burkhard Feuerstein FSO