Druckansicht - Donnerstag 16. Dezember 2010
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Why People Go on Pilgrimage to Mariazell




Again and again, people wonder about the mystery and fascination of Mariazell. On His first visit to Mariazell in 2004, Pope Benedict XVI., then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said: "I liked it so much that I said: Yes, I will be coming back to the Magna Mater Austria." First, Mariazell is a matter of the heart. Year by year, countless people spare no efforts to go on pilgrimage to Mariazell. And Pope Benedict XVI. also seems to have been deeply moved by Mariazell on His first visit. The great architecture of the pilgrimage church and the breathtaking theological concept inside the church are a key example of the "Beauty of the Faith," which Pope Benedict often speaks of. Mariazell has been intensely shaped by the Benedictine order. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger expressed His admiration of St. Benedict by choosing his name as papal name. The Benedictine monastic rule of St. Benedict, the Patron of Europe and father of western Monasticism, still regulates the lives of the monks living in Mariazell. Mariazell has never been a pilgrimage place which was famous for its appearances - Mariazell has been and still is a place very much down-to-earth which stresses the Benedictine heritage even more. Mariazell is a home for many. Since the foundation of the pilgrimage site, Mariazell has become a meeting place and home for all peoples of the world. Mariazell is situated at the heart of Europe, which became evident on the "Mitteleuroäischer Kirchentag" and the "Wallfahrt der Völker" in 2004, a pilgrimage of people from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc. And finally, Mariazell is a mystery of faith. In Mariazell, the Gospels have lived for 850 years and continue to give the people strength in difficult times of their lives. The quiet and still great mystery of Mariazell is reconciliation: reconciliation with God in the sacrament of confession and the reconciliation of the people coming to Mariazell. Mary is showing the way and points at Christ saying: "Look on Christ!"





Mariazell is celebrating its 850th anniversary and again and again people ask why Mariazell is such a famous pilgrimage site, whether famous appearances happened, why people have been coming to Mariazell for centuries and what is the mystery of Mariazell. These questions often lead to the final question why Pope Benedict Himself visits Mariazell as a pilgrim this year?


Pope Benedict XVI.'s own words say it best what the mystery of Mariazell comprises. In a TV interview with German TV broadcasters in 2004, Pope Benedict XVI. surprised many people with his answer on the question whether he did not want to come to Mariazell: "I liked it so much that I said: Yes, I will be coming back to the Magna Mater Austriae."


Mariazell - a Matter of the Heart


This is a characteristic which seems to be true for almost all pilgrims coming to Mariazell: it is a matter of the heart for thousands of pilgrims to come to Mariazell year in, year out, walking for several days to thank Mother Mary and ask for help. Pope Benedict XVI. is not one of those pilgrims who have been at Mariazell several times. He discovered the pilgrimage site rather late in His life. On October 2, 2004, he came to Mariazell for the first time in his role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith together with notaries from all over Europe. And Pope Benedict XVI. also seems to have been deeply moved by Mariazell on His first visit. In Mariazell, Pope Benedict XVI. may have come across something which reminds Him of His heritage, the roots of His faith and His understanding of the Church, as well as His concept of Theology.


"I was astonished at the sight of the Statue of Grace of the Mother Mary - its splendor as well as its humbleness and kindness," confessed Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger after His first pilgrimage to Mariazell in 2004. The great architecture of the pilgrimage church, which expresses esthetic values of the past and the present, and the breathtaking theological concept inside the church are a key example of the "Beauty of the Faith," which Pope Benedict often speaks of. By this He means the richness of faith which the Church preserves and hands on from generation to generation. The Catholic Church spreads the faith not only through the hearing of God's word but appeals to all senses of the people. Therefore, our home is famous for its master works of ecclesiastical art, may it be music, painting or architecture.


A church is a synthesis of the arts and faith, and constitutes a part of our identity. This is especially true for the pilgrimage church in Mariazell. More than one million people come to Mariazell every year and for many of them the outside beauty of the Basilica in the midst of God's creation and nature presents new insights into their own existence and may lead to an encounter with God. In particular, if the pilgrims let themselves be carried away by the humble statue made of linden wood. The statue of grace shows Mary who is pointing at her child, Jesus Christ, saying: "Look on Christ!" He is the way, the truth and the life. It is Him the pilgrims testify to when they have come back to their daily lives again.


Mariazell - Shaped by the Benedictine Order


The Holy Father is a great admirer of St. Benedict of Nursia, the Patron of Europe and father of western Monasticism. Choosing Benedict as His papal name, Pope Benedict XVI. stresses the timeless validity of the Benedictine monastic rule, which still is the foundation of the Benedictine and other orders. "Ora et leabora" - "Pray and work" is the motto of the Benedictine monks. 850 years ago, the monks from the Benedictine convent St. Lambrecht founded Mariazell and stayed there.


In the first place, Mariazell had not been intended as a pilgrimage site, as Mariazell was located far away from important roads and so the geographical location spoke against it. In the beginning, there were only the cells of the monks, the prayers of the monks and the working of the monks. Cult and culture, knowledge, wisdom, education, and economy - those were the aims of the monks, not for personal edification but with specific people in an specific time in mind. With the help of the monks, the forests in the area surrounding Mariazell were cleared and ore mining and salt mines became the most important economic factors in the region.


Mariazell is not a spectacular place of pilgrimage, as there have never been appearances, no wonders filling the newpapers, no illogical excrescences of the Catholic religion and spirituality and no religious groups claiming privileges in Mariazell. Mariazell has been and still is a place very much down-to-earth which stresses the Benedictine heritage even more. The Benedictine monks have never hid behind the convent walls. Benedictine hospitality does not exclude anyone, not even members of other religions. They are gently invited to join the Christian celebration at this place, which is a challenge today and tomorrow. Maybe it is the Benedictine influence in Mariazell, the synthesis of faith and culture, of contemplation and action, which make this spot of land a blessed one and thus attracts Pope Benedict XVI.


Mariazell - Home for Many.


As is mentioned in records from the 13th century, soon after the foundation of Mariazell in 1157, it became a place of refuge for people, for pilgrims from Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Moravia. In this time, Duke Henry from Moravia donated a Romanic chapel. About 150 years later, the Hungarian King Louis extended the chapel and built an additional church in the Gothic style. In the Basilica, one can find paintings with depictions of cities like Brünne, Bratislava, and many other places in Hungary, as well as numerous inscriptions in the Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Croatian, and Slovene language.


These languages have never been foreign languages at this place and go without saying, today more than ever. This became even clearer during the huge pilgrimage in 1990 after the fall of the iron curtain, which made it possible for 20.000 pilgrims from Eastern Europe to join the pilgrimage. The biggest pilgrimage to Mariazell is unforgettable: on the occasion of the "Mitteleuropäischer Kirchentag" and the "Wallfahrt der Völker," the so-called "pilgrimage of the peoples," on May 22, 2004, 100.000 people went on a pilgrimage to Mariazell. Only a few days after the EU extension, these 100.000 faithful people made clear that Europe has a vivid Christian soul and that Christians are ready to work on the "construction site Europe." Again, this event proved that faith can overcome language and all other kinds of borders and that European unity is possible within the existing variety.


Mariazell has become a home for many people. In the last centuries, coming to Mariazell only once in their lives was their biggest wish. This has changed. Pilgrimage is not stigmatized as something which is done by the poor. Instead, people with various social, financial, and educational backgrounds are coming to Mariazell: people who have lost orientation and looking for help, Roma, those being expelled from their homes and looking for new ones, Christians belonging to other denominations and members of other religions. People who have become alienated from the Church feel at home in Mariazell. Representatives of various religious, political, and economic groups find a home in Mariazell, which can be seen from the large number of sponsors facilitating the renovation of the Mariazell Basilica. Children and teenagers, old people, people who are in pain, laughing and crying people, those looking for a job, rich and poor people, people from all segments of society - they find a home in Mariazell.


Mariazell- a Mystery of Faith


In Mariazell, the Benedictine monks have preached the Gospel for 850 years and the people take the word of God with them on their pilgrimage of life. For centuries, the Holy Mass has been celebrated several times a day and the pilgrims trust in the unity with Christ, which they sense in the bread of the Eucharist and which can shape their lives. People laugh and cry here, and the tears of hope and desperation give an idea of what people experience in Mariazell: here, everybody has finally reached the sanctuary and is close to Mary, her son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Father. This is the essential wonder of Mariazell, where people open up for the divine power and feel a connection of heaven and earth.


This experience cannot be bought or produced. It is the result of a long journey, a time of preparation and of going back to basics, a leaving behind of everyday problems and opening oneself for God. This happens when people go on a pilgrimage: they "pray with their feet and leave their ordinary lives behind to fully engage in the rhythm of prayer. Due to the secluded location of Mariazell up in the mountains, Mariazell is a place which is primarily visited by pilgrims on foot or by bike. Many pilgrims have been in Mariazell as teenagers and students, and are still coming to Mariazell when they have time off from work.


The quiet and still great wonder of Mariazell is reconciliation. First, the reconciliation with God: many people are receiving the sacrament of reconciliation in Mariazell. In doing so, they admit, that life cannot only be defined by ability, competence and efficiency but has to be viewed from God's perspective which then defines human people's lives in terms of design and realization. God does not "throw stones." He rather invites us to accept His mercy and expects us to make a new start. Mariazell could even be called the "confessional of Austria"- in the light of people's various life styles, this is a huge responsibility and has to be handled carefully. In 1952, the later Franz Cardinal König paved the way for the reconciliation of state and the political parties and the Church. This reconciliation is connected to the term "Mariazell Manifesto." In 1983, on the occasion of the Papal visit of Pope John Paul II., only a few pilgrims from former Eastern Bloc countries managed to cross the inhuman borders. In 1990, after a break lasting several decades, 20.000 people came to Mariazell to thank God with tears in their eyes. In 2004, at the "Wallfahrt der Völker," there were 100.000 people present. Those reconciled with God, have to try to bring reconciliation to society. In this way, the church will be "salt and light" for our society, in which the opinion that God can be treated any way you like is dominant.


Through the years, many things changed in Mariazell. For the praise of God as an expression of their creativity and their longing for beauty, artists, builders, and architects have done a lot in Mariazell. Thanks to the help of many, this house of God has been renovated to the joy of each and everyone of us. At the beginning, there is the pilgrims' encounter with this humble woman, Mary, who points at Christ who is the foundation and ultimate aim of our longing. The statue of grace is so small that it could possibly be overlooked - one will look for spectacular appearances in vain and so the real wonder happens when Mary encourages us: "Whatever he says to you, do it!"


Father Mag. Karl Schauer OSB

Superior of Mariazell


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