Pope renews commitment to visit Austria next year

.- Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed his commitment to visit Austria. During his meeting with the pontiff yesterday, President Heinz Fischer of Austria once again extended the invitation to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariazell, located in the Austrian Alps, next year.

No official date has been announced by the Vatican, but many are expecting the trip to take place October 7-9th of next year.

The shrine is the most important pilgrimage site in Austria and the most popular Marian shrine in Central Europe.  It serves as the official shrine of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia in the Czech Republic. The feast of Our Lady of Mariazell is celebrated on Sept. 13.

Mariazell has been an important pilgrimage site in Europe for more than 800 years ago.

According to tradition, in 1157 a Benedictine monk, named Magnus, was walking through the forest looking for a place to build a monastery. When he encountered huge boulder, too massive to walk around, he knelt in prayer for a while and asked the Virgin Mary to guide him to an appropriate place for his monastery.

Suddenly, the rock split in two, allowing him to pass through. Magnus took a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary he had in his bag and placed it on a branch near the rock. Soon after, he and some local people built a small chapel to house the statue and his monastic cell.

Word of the miraculous statue of the Virgin quickly spread across the countryside, and the church was expanded to accommodate the growing crowds. In 1200, the chapel was enlarged to a church.

The chapel was continuously expanded until Ferdinand III built the present-day basilica in 1643. By 1699, Mariazell was receiving almost 400,000 pilgrims per year.

In 1907, the statue of Our Lady of Mariazell received an official coronation and the church was designated a Minor Basilica. Pope John Paul II made an official visit to the shrine in 1983.

During their meeting, the Austrian president and the Pope also discussed the activities of the Catholic Church in Austria, the good bilateral relations between the Holy See and Austria, and their agreement on the cultural and spiritual identity of Europe. They also discussed the promotion of dialogue between cultures and religions, in particular between Christianity and Islam, refuting any sort of terrorism.

Fischer later met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

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