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Wednesday's Audience - On the Trip to Austria

"Above All It Was a Pilgrimage"


VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The Holy Father reflected on his recent pastoral visit to Austria.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I intend to focus on the pastoral visit that I had the joy of making a few days ago to Austria, a country that is especially familiar to me, because it borders my native land and because of the numerous contacts that I have always had with it. The specific motive for this visit was the 850th anniversary of the Shrine of Mariazell, the most important in Austria, favored also by the faithful in Hungary and visited by pilgrims of other neighboring nations.

Above all it was a pilgrimage, which had as its theme "To Look to Christ": to meet Mary who shows Jesus to us. I offer my heartfelt thanks to Cardinal Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, and all of the Austrian bishops for the great effort with which they prepared and followed my visit. I thank the Austrian government and all of the civil and military authorities who offered their valuable cooperation. In a special way, I would like to thank the president for the cordiality with which he welcomed and accompanied me during various moments of the trip.

The first stop was Mariensaule, the historic column upon which stands the statue of the Immaculate Virgin. There I met with thousands of young people and I began my pilgrimage. I did not miss the chance to go to Judenplatz to render homage to the monument that commemorates the Shoah.

Aware of Austria's history and its close ties with the Holy See, as well as Vienna's important role in international politics, the program of my pastoral visit included meetings with the president of the republic and the diplomatic corps. These are valuable opportunities, in which the Successor of Peter has the chance to exhort the leaders of nations to favor the cause of peace and authentic economic and social development.

Focusing on Europe, I renewed my encouragement to go forward with the current process of unification on the basis of values inspired by its shared Christian heritage. Mariazell, in the end, is one of the symbols of the meeting in faith of European peoples. How can we forget that Europe bears a tradition of thought that holds together faith, reason and sentiment? Illustrious philosophers, even outside the faith, recognized the central role of Christianity in preserving the modern conscience from nihilistic or fundamentalist derivatives. Given the current situation of the European continent it was therefore favorable to make time for the meeting with the political and diplomatic leaders in Vienna.

I carried out the actual pilgrimage on Saturday, Sept. 8, feast of the Nativity of Mary, from whom Mariazell takes its name. Its origins go back to 1157, when a Benedictine monk from the nearby Abbey of St. Lambrecht, sent to preach there, experienced the special help of Mary. The monk carried a small wooden statue of Mary. The cell ("zell") where the monk placed the statue later became a place of pilgrimage and upon which, over the last two centuries, an important shrine was built, where Our Lady of Grace, so-called Magna Mater Austriae, is venerated still today.

It was a great joy for me to return as the Successor of Peter to that holy place, so dear to the people of Central and Eastern Europe. There I admired the exemplary courage of thousands and thousands of pilgrims who, despite the rain and cold, wanted to be present for this festive occurrence, with great joy and faith, and where I explained to them the central theme of my visit: "To Look to Christ," a theme that the Austrian bishops wisely elaborated on during the nine-month period of preparations.

It was only when we reached the shrine that we fully understood the full sense of that theme: to look to Christ. Before us was the statue of Our Lady that with one hand pointed to the Baby Jesus, and above her, above the basilica's altar, the Crucified One. There our pilgrimage reached its goal: We contemplated the face of God in that Child in the arms of his Mother and in that Man with the outstretched arms. To look at Jesus with the eyes of Mary means to meet God who is Love, who was made man and died on a cross for us.

At the end of the Mass in Mariazell, I conferred a "mandate" to members of the parish pastoral councils, which have recently been renewed in all of Austria -- an eloquent ecclesiastical gesture with which I placed under Mary's protection the great network of parishes that are at the service of communion and mission.

At the shrine I experienced joyous moments of fraternity with the bishops of the country and the Benedictine community. I met with priests, religious, deacons and seminarians and celebrated vespers with them. Spiritually united to Mary, we magnified the Lord for the humble devotion of many men and women who trust in his mercy and consecrate themselves to God's service. These people, despite their human limitations, or rather, in the simplicity and humility of their humanity, work to offer to all a reflection of the goodness and beauty of God, following Jesus on the path of poverty, chastity and obedience, three vows that must be well understood in their true Christological meaning, not individualistic but relational and ecclesial.

Sunday morning I celebrated the solemn Eucharist in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. In the homily, I wanted to elaborate on the meaning and value of Sunday, in support of the movement "Alliance in Defense of a Free Sunday." Many non-Christian people and groups belong to this movement. As believers, naturally, we have deep motives for living the Day of the Lord, as the Church has taught us: "Sine dominico non possumus!" Without the Lord and without his Day we cannot live, declared the martyrs of Abitene (present-day Tunisia) in the year 304.

We too, we Christians of the 21st century, cannot live without Sunday: A day that gives meaning to work and rest, fulfills the meaning of creation and redemption, expresses the value of freedom and the service of our neighbor ... all of this is Sunday -- much more than just a precept! If the populations of ancient Christian civilizations had abandoned this meaning and let Sunday be reduced to a weekend or an opportunity for mundane and commercial interests, it would have meant that they had decided to renounce their very culture.

Not far from Vienna is the Abbey of "Heiligenkreuz," of the Holy Cross, and it was a joy for me to visit that flowering community of Cistercian monks, that have existed for 874 years without interruption! Annexed to the abbey is the High Academy of Philosophy and Theology, which has recently been granted the "Pontifical" title. In speaking with the monks, I recalled the great teaching of St. Benedict on the Divine Office, underlining the value of prayer as a service of praise and adoration due to God for his infinite beauty and goodness.

Nothing should come before this sacred service -- says the Benedictine Rule (43:3) -- so that all of life, with its times for work and rest, will be recapitulated in the liturgy and oriented toward God. Even theological study cannot be separated from the spiritual life and the life of prayer, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, father of the Cistercian order, so strongly maintained. The presence of the Academy of Theology next to the abbey shows this union between faith and reason, between heart and mind.

The last meeting of my trip was with the network of volunteer organizations. I wanted to show my appreciation to the many people, of all ages, who work freely in service of their neighbor, in the ecclesial community as well as in the civil community.

Volunteering is not only "doing": It is first of all a way of being, which begins in the heart, from a grateful way of viewing life, and it encourages us to "give back" and share the gifts we have received with our neighbor. In this perspective, I wanted to encourage yet again the culture of charity work.

Volunteer work should not be seen as "stopgap" assistance with regard to state and public institutions, but rather as a complimentary and always necessary presence to keep attentive to the most marginalized in society and to promote a personalized style in the assistance programs. Furthermore, there is no one who cannot be a volunteer. Surely even the most needy and disadvantaged person has much to share with others by offering his own contribution to building a civilization of love.

In conclusion, I renew my thanksgiving to the Lord for this visit-pilgrimage to Austria. The focal point was yet again a Marian shrine, in which I was able to live a strong ecclesial experience, as I did the week before in Loreto with the Italian youth. Moreover, in Vienna and Mariazell, it has been possible to see the living, faithful and varied reality of the Catholic Church, so numerously present in the scheduled events.

It was a joyful and radiant presence of a Church that, like Mary, is called to always "look to Christ" in order to show and offer him to everyone; a Church that is teacher and witness of a generous "yes" to life in each of its dimensions; a Church that carries out its 2,000-year tradition at the service of a future of peace and true social progress for the entire human family.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

My recent Pastoral Visit to Austria was above all a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Mariazell on its 850th anniversary. The venerable statue of Our Lady pointing to her infant Son inspired the theme of the visit -- To Look to Christ. Austria is a land of ancient Christian culture, and its capital, Vienna, is today a centre of international institutions. In my meeting with the President and the Diplomatic Corps I expressed the Church's support for global efforts to foster peace and authentic development, and I encouraged the process of Europe's unification on the basis of values inspired by its shared Christian heritage. At Mass in Saint Stephen's Cathedral, I stressed the importance of respecting the rich religious and cultural meaning of our tradition of Sunday rest. While visiting Heiligenkreuz Abbey I spoke of the value of monasticism and liturgical prayer, and the inseparable link between theology and the spiritual life. At the end of my journey, I met with representatives of Austria's impressive network of volunteer organizations and expressed appreciation for their generosity to others. Throughout my visit, I saw the vitality of the Church, which, in today's Europe, is called "to look to Christ" ever anew, as she carries out her mission in service of the Gospel and the true progress of the human family.

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Malta and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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