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Wednesday's Audience - On the Trip to Austria

9/16/2007 - 5:45 AM PST

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"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.

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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 ...

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