VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Highlighting Catholic shrines’ potential to strengthen the faith of Catholics and draw people to Christianity, Pope Francis transferred responsibility for coordinating the activity of shrines to the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
“Despite the crisis of faith impacting the modern world, these places still are perceived as sacred spaces where pilgrims go to find moments of rest, silence and contemplation in the midst of a life that is often frenetic,” Pope Francis said in a document published April 1.
Issued “motu proprio,” or on his own authority, the document moves responsibility for Catholic shrines from the Congregation for Clergy to the council for new evangelization.
While in most cases, religious orders or dioceses run Catholic shrines, the Vatican still has responsibility for providing some regulation and, especially, encouragement of their pastoral activities.
The papal document specifies the pontifical council now will be responsible for: approving the designation of international shrines; studying and promoting the evangelizing activity of shrines; organizing and supporting national and international meetings to promote common pastoral initiatives; promoting specialized training of shrine workers; and ensuring that pilgrims are offered the spiritual support they need to grow from their pilgrimage.
Pope Francis, in the document, praised expressions of popular piety as reflections of real faith on the part of the pilgrims who visit the shrines, whether they are the Holy Land sites associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, places recognized as the site of Marian apparitions or churches associated with the life of a saint.
“Here they experience in a profound way the closeness of God, the tenderness of the Virgin Mary and the company of the saints,” the pope wrote. “It is an experience of true spirituality that cannot be undervalued without demeaning the action of the Holy Spirit and the life of grace.”
Many shrines, he said, have been so popular for so long that they are part of the life and identity of families, communities and even nations.
In addition, Pope Francis said, Catholic shrines are known as places that “throw open their doors to the sick, persons with disabilities and, above all, to the poor, the marginalized, to refugees and migrants.”
The enduring popularity of Catholic shrines, “the humble and simple prayer of the people of God” and the Catholic liturgies celebrated in the shrines offer “a unique opportunity for evangelization in our time,” he said.
Many people today, he said, have a longing for God, and shrines “can be a true refuge” where people can be honest about themselves and “find the strength necessary for their conversion.”