Vatican City, 21 January 2016 (VIS) – "Making a pilgrimage to shrines is one of the most eloquent expressions of the faith of a people for God … This popular religiosity is an authentic form of evangelisation that must be promoted and emphasised, without minimising its importance", said Pope Francis this morning as he received in the Paul VI Hall three thousand leaders of pilgrimages and rectors of shrines, participating in the Jubilee.
"It would be a mistake to think that those who go on a pilgrimage live a spirituality that is not personal but rather of the 'masses'. The reality is that the pilgrim carries within him hos own history and faith, and the lights and shadows of his own life. Each person carries within his or her heart a special wish and a particular prayer. Those who enter the shrine immediately feel they are at home, welcomed, understood and supported. … Therefore, the key word I would like to underline today with you is 'welcome'. … An affectionate, celebratory, cordial and patient welcome. … Jesus spoke about welcome, but most of all He practised it. When we read that sinners such as Matthew and Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus in their home and at their table, it is because they felt welcomed first by Jesus, and this had changed their lives".
Francis commented that the pilgrim often reaches a sanctuary tired, hungry and thirsty. "And very often this physical condition reflects the inner condition", he observed. "Therefore, every person needs to be welcomed well both materially and spiritually. … Whoever they may be, young or old, rich or poor, sick and troubled or simply a curious tourist, we must find the right way to welcome them, because in each one of them there is a heart that seeks God, at times without being fully aware".
Finally, he said that priests offer a special welcome in these shrines as ministers of God's forgiveness, as the shrine is the "house of forgiveness, where each person encounters the tenderness of the Father who is merciful to all, without excluding anyone. Those who approach the confessional do so because they repent of their sins. … Priests who carry out their mission in sanctuaries must always have a heart full of mercy: their attitude must be that of a father".