Pope: everyone, young or old, or even curious tourists ought to find “due welcome” in shrines

Popular religiosity "is a genuine form of evangelisation, which must always be promoted and appreciated, without minimising its importance.” At the same time, “Priests who carry out a ministry in shrines must have their heart permeated with mercy.”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis received in audience in the Paul VI Hall participants to the International Meeting of pilgrimage organisers, priests, shrine rectors and staff, who are in Rome to celebrate their Jubilee. His focus was on acceptance, physical and spiritual, including in the confessional.

In his address, the Holy Father told those present that “Whoever he or she is, young or old, rich or poor, sick and troubled, or just a curious tourist,” they must be “able to find due welcome, because in each one there is a heart that seeks God, sometimes without fully realising it.” Indeed, “With welcome, so to speak, we stake everything.”

“To go on pilgrimage to shrines is one of the most eloquent expressions of the faith of the People of God, for it expressed the piety of generations of people who believed with simplicity and entrusted themselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and of the Saints. Such popular religiosity is a genuine form of evangelisation, which must always be promoted and appreciated, and its importance should not be minimised.”

“Curiously, in Evangelii Nuntiandi, the Blessed Paul VI spoke about popular religiosity, but said that it is better to call it ‘popular piety’. Then, in the AparecidaDocument, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference went further and spoke of ‘popular spirituality’. All three concepts are valid, but together. In the shrines, in fact, our people live out their deep spirituality, the piety that for centuries has shaped their faith through simple yet very significant devotions. Let us think how the prayer to Christ Crucified, or that of the Rosary, or the Via Crucis, is understood in some of these places.

“It would be a mistake to believe that those who go on pilgrimage experience “mass” spirituality, rather than a personal one. In reality, individually pilgrims carry within themselves their history and faith as well as the lights and shadows of their life. Everyone has in his or her heart a special desire and a particular prayer. Those who enter a shrine feel immediately at home, welcomed, understood and supported.

“I very much like the biblical figure of Anna, mother of the prophet Samuel. With her heart full of sadness, she prayed for a child to the Lord at the Temple in Shiloh. Eli, the priest, thought instead that she was drunk and wanted to throw her out (cf. 1 Samuel 1:12-14).

“Anna represents well many of the people we meet in our shrines – their eyes set on the Crucifix or on an image of Our Lady, in a prayer full of trust their eyes swelling with tears. A shrine is really a privileged place to encounter the Lord and touch His mercy with one’s hand. To go to confession in a shrine is to touch God’s mercy by hand.

“Therefore, the key word that I want to stress today before you is welcome: welcome to pilgrims. With welcome, so to speak, we stake everything – an affectionate, festive, cordial and patient welcome. Patience is also necessary! The Gospels show us a Jesus who is always welcoming to those who approach Him, especially the sick, the sinners and the marginalized. And we recall His expression, ‘Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me’ (Mt 10:40).

“Jesus spoke of welcome, but above all He practiced it. When we are told that sinners – for instance Matthew or Zaccheus – received Jesus in their home or at their table, it was because, first of all, they felt welcomed by Jesus, and this changed their life. It is interesting that the Book of the Acts of the Apostles ends with the scene with Saint Paul, here in Rome, receiving “all who came to him,” (Acts 28:30). His house, where he dwelt as a prisoner, was the place where he proclaimed the Gospel. Welcome is truly crucial for evangelisation. Sometimes a word, a smile is enough to make a person feel welcome and liked.

“Pilgrims who arrive at a shrine are often tired, hungry and thirsty. Often their physical state reflect their inner state. Therefore, such people have to be well received, both in material as well as spiritual terms. It is important that pilgrims who cross a shrine’s threshold feel that he or she is treated a guest, as a member of the family. They must feel at home, awaited, loved and looked at with eyes of mercy. Whoever he or she is, young or old, rich or poor, sick or troubled, or just a curious tourist, must be able to find due welcome, because in each person there is a heart that seeks God, sometimes without fully realising it. We should act in such a way that every pilgrim can enjoy the feeling of being finally understood and loved. Thus, on returning home, they will feel nostalgic for all they experienced and will want to return, but above all, they will want to pursue their journey of faith in their regular life.

“A special welcome is offered by ministers of God’s forgiveness. A shrine is a house of forgiveness, where everyone encounters the Father’s mercy, who has mercy for everyone, and excludes no one. Whoever approaches a confessional does so because they are repentant, repentant of their sin. They feel the need to go there. They perceive clearly that God does not condemn them, but receives and embraces them, as the Father of the Prodigal Son, to restore his filial dignity to him (cf. Luke 15:20-24).  Priests who carry out a ministry in shrines must have their heart permeated with mercy. Their attitude must be that of a father."