Pope Francis kisses the altar as he arrives to pray in front of a Nativity scene during a Jan. 4 surprise visit to the Franciscan shrine in Greccio, Italy. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout via EPA

Shrines are welcoming homes of forgiveness, mercy, Pope says

By  Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
  • January 21, 2016

VATICAN CITY - Shrines are homes of forgiveness that allow pilgrims to experience firsthand God's love and mercy, Pope Francis said.  

In an audience with employees, workers and rectors of shrines and pilgrimage offices taking part in a Jubilee Year pilgrimage Jan. 21, the Pope said shrines are "a privileged place" where pilgrims can feel "loved and looked upon with eyes of mercy."

"Anyone: young or old, rich or poor, sick or troubled or even a curious tourist, can find their due welcome because in each one there is a heart that is looking for God, sometimes without even knowing it," he said.

Going on a pilgrimage to a shrine and seeking the intercession of Mary and the saints are the most eloquent expressions of faith and are "a genuine form of evangelization that must always be promoted and valued," the Pope said. He also compared pilgrims to Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, who prayed with anguish in the temple for a son and "represents so many people that we may meet in our shrines."

"The shrine is truly a privileged space to meet the Lord and to experience firsthand his mercy," he said. "To confess in a shrine is an experience of touching with one's hand the mercy of God."

The Pope emphasized the importance of making pilgrims who visit shrines feel welcomed, just as Jesus made sinners, the sick and the marginalized feel welcomed when they approached him. Welcoming pilgrims, he said, "is truly crucial for evangelization. Sometimes, all it takes is a word, a smile, to make a person feel accepted and loved."

When they get to a shrine, pilgrims often arrive tired, hungry and thirsty -- physical conditions that often "mirror their inner" state. For this reason, the Pope said, it is crucial that rectors and employees of shrines attend to both the material and spiritual needs of those who visit and treat them as "a guest, as a relative."

"Let us ensure that every pilgrim has the joy of finally feeling understood and loved," he said. "In this way, they will feel nostalgia upon returning home from what they experienced and have the desire to return but also, above all, to want to continue the journey of faith in their ordinary lives."

A shrine must also be "a house of forgiveness" where pilgrims can encounter God's tenderness through confession. Priests who administer the sacrament of reconciliation, he said, must have "a heart steeped in mercy; their attitude must be that of a father."

Pope Francis called on the shrine workers to not only live out the Holy Year as "one great pilgrimage" but also their service "as a corporal and spiritual work of mercy."

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