Carmelites from Britain, the Philippines and Poland took part in a gathering held in Rome in mid-January 2016 of those involved in the work of pilgrimage and shrine ministry.
As part of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has invited people to come to Rome as pilgrims to reflect on some of the Church's particular ministries of mercy. Over the course of the Jubilee Year there will be gatherings of: people who are sick or disabled; those involved in the spirituality of Divine Mercy; priests; deacons; catechists; volunteers of Mercy; and others.
The Holy Father wanted the first gathering to be of those who are involved in the work of pilgrimages and shrines, since going on pilgrimage is often an experience that gives people a special encounter with the love and mercy of God.
Pilgrimage and shrine ministry are important apostolates of the Carmelite Family worldwide, and Carmelites were among the approximately 1,000 participants at the Jubilee which took place between 19th and 21st January.
The British Province of Carmelites was represented by: Fr. Francis Kemsley, O.Carm. (on behalf of Aylesford, but former Shrine Director at Saint Jude); Mr. Matthew Betts, Development Manager at the National Shrine of Saint Jude (which the Carmelites established 60 years ago); and Mr. Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C., the Province's Communications & Outreach Manager who coordinates an annual Carmelite pilgrimage to Lourdes, organises special pilgrimage events (such as to Avila for the 'Teresa 500' celebrations last year), and is a Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Doncaster.
You can read more about the trip, here.
At the end of the trip, the group were invited to an Audience with Pope Francis. Here follows the address from Pope Francis, translated by Johan Bergström-Allen:
Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy
Jubilee of Pilgrimage Organisers and Rectors of Sanctuaries
Pope Francis’ Address
Paul VI Hall
Thursday 21 January 2016
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
I cordially welcome all of you, people who work in pilgrimages and shrines. Going on pilgrimage to shrines is one of the most eloquent expressions of the faith of the people of God. It manifests the piety of generations of people who, with simplicity, have believed and entrusted themselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the saints. This popular religiosity is a genuine form of evangelisation, which needs to be increasingly promoted and valued, without minimising its importance. It’s interesting: Blessed Paul VI, in Evangellii nuntiandi, speaks of popular religiosity, but says it is better to call it “popular piety”; and then, the Latin American Bishops in their Aparecida Document go a step further and speak of “popular spirituality”. All three concepts are valid, but together. At shrines, in fact, our people live their profound spirituality, that piety which for centuries has shaped the faith with devotions that are simple but very meaningful. We think to how intensified, in some of these places, is prayer to Christ crucified, or that of the Rosary, or the Way of the Cross …
It would be a mistake to assume that those who go on pilgrimage live a spirituality that is not personal but rather “en masse”. In fact, the pilgrim carries with them their own story, their own faith, the lights and shadows of their lives. Each carries in their heart a special desire and a particular prayer. Whoever enters the shrine immediately feels at home, welcomed, understood and supported. I really like the biblical figure of Anna, the mother of the prophet Samuel. In the temple of Shiloh, her heart full of sadness, she prayed to the Lord to have a child. Eli the priest instead thought she was drunk and wanted to throw her out (cf. 1 Samuel 1:12-14). Anna represents well so many people we can meet in our shrines. Eyes fixed on the Crucifix or the image of the Virgin Mary, a prayer said with tears in his eyes, full of confidence. The sanctuary is really a privileged space to meet the Lord and touch his mercy with your hands. To go to confession in a shrine is to have the experience of touching the mercy of God with your hand.
This is the key word that I wish to underline together with you today: welcome. Welcome pilgrims. It could be said that everything depends on welcome. A welcome that is loving, festive, heartfelt, and patient. It also takes patience! The Gospels present Jesus as always welcoming towards those who approach him, especially the sick, the sinners, the marginalized. And remember that expression: “He who receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). Jesus spoke about welcome, but mostly he practiced it. When we are told that sinners – such as Matthew and Zacchaeus – welcomed Jesus into their homes and at their tables, it is first of all because they had felt welcomed by Jesus, and that had changed their lives. It’s interesting that the Book of the Acts of the Apostles ends with the scene of Saint Paul who, here in Rome, “welcomed all who came to him” (Acts 28:30). His home, where he lived as a prisoner, was the place where he announced the Gospel. Welcome is truly the determining factor for evangelisation. Sometimes, just a word or a smile is enough to make a person feel a heartfelt welcome.
The pilgrim who comes to the shrine is often tired, hungry, thirsty … And many times this physical condition also reflects the interior. Therefore, this person needs to be well received in both material and spiritual terms. It is important that the pilgrim who crosses the threshold of the sanctuary feels treated more like a member of the family than as a guest. He or she should feel at home, awaited, loved, and looked at with eyes of mercy. Anyone, young or old, rich or poor, sick or troubled, and curious tourists, can find the welcome due to them, because in each one there is a heart that seeks God, sometimes without being fully aware of it. We ensure that every pilgrim has the joy of finally feeling understood and loved. In this way, when they return home they will feel nostalgia for what they have experienced and a desire to come back, but also wanting to continue the journey of faith in their ordinary life.
A very special form of welcome is that given by the ministers of God’s forgiveness. The shrine is the home of forgiveness, where everyone encounters the tenderness of the Father who has mercy on everyone, without exception. Those who approach the confessional do so because they are repentant, repenting their sins. He or she feels the need to approach there. He/she clearly perceives that God does not condemn, but welcomes him/her and hugs him/her, like the father of the prodigal son, who restores his filial dignity (cf. Luke 15:20-24). Priests who carry out a ministry in sanctuaries must have hearts impregnated by mercy; their attitude must be that of a father.
Dear brothers and sisters, we live this Jubilee with faith and joy: let us live as one big pilgrimage. You, especially, live your service as a work of corporal and spiritual mercy. I assure you of my prayers for this, through the intercession of Mary our Mother. And please, with your prayers, accompany me in my pilgrimage. Thank you.