Friday, January 23, 2009

Pope: Shrine Is Key to Europe's Christian Identity

Mary's Greatness Is in Her Availability to All

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 22, 2009 ( Benedict XVI gave an improvised discourse on the Virgin Mary, in gratitude for receiving honorary citizenship of Mariazell, home of one of the most important Marian shrines in Europe.

This distinction was conferred on the Pope after Wednesday's general audience. Mariazell is the site of the Basilica of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, which houses a statue of Our Lady believed to be miraculous. For centuries, the town has been one of Europe's principal pilgrimage sites. Today, some 1 million pilgrims visit it annually.

The Holy Father spoke in German about being joyful "at being a citizen of Mariazell and at being able to live so close to the Mother of God," and he spoke to the others about Mary's role as "promoter of unity" between men.

The Pontiff last visited the shrine in September 2007, and he noted that "according to human foresight, in this life I will not be able to return to making a pilgrimage there physically, but now I live there truly and in this sense I am always present."

He recalled two previous visits to the shrine, and he told some stories that he lived through with the bishop and the rector, especially during his last visit in which they were surprised by a torrential rain.

European identity

Benedict XVI also affirmed the importance that this shrine has had on European history.

"Mariazell is much more than a 'place,'" he said. It also represents "the living history of a pilgrimage of faith and prayer down the centuries."

Yet, he added: "It is not only the prayers and invocations of men that are present, but rather a real answer is also present.

"We feel that the answer exists, that we do not extend a hand toward something unknown, that God exists, and that, through his mother, he wants to remain particularly close to us.

"For this reason I am happy to be at home in my heart and now, so to say, also by law, in Mariazell."

The Holy Father noted that Mariazell expresses all that Europe has been able to build. He affirmed that Mariazell is that "from which proceeds all that today forms [Europe's] identity, and through which Europe would always be able to return anew to be what it is: through the encounter with the Lord, to whom his mother guides us."

True greatness

The Pope recalled that the Virgin of Mariazell has received important titles throughout history, like "great mother" of Austria and of the Slavic towns, in this sanctuary visited by thousands of people during the centuries, until Mariazell was even considered the spiritual center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

However, he added, the Virgin shows us that greatness does not arise from the quality of being unattainable.

He explained that Mary's "greatness is evident precisely in the fact that she addresses herself to the smallest, that she is present for them, that we can turn to her at any moment without having to pay an entrance fee, just with our hearts."

This greatness has nothing to do with "exterior majesty," the Pontiff continued, but rather with "goodness of heart that offers to all the experience of what it means to be together."

"In the trips that I make through the fields of memory," he said, "I always make a stop in Mariazell, precisely because I feel that there the Mother goes out to meet us and reunites us to all."

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