Benedict XVI on Pilgrimage in Austria

En Route to Nation's "Maternal Heart"

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VIENNA, Austria, SEPT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI arrived to Vienna as a pilgrim, and his destination is the "maternal heart of Austria."



During today's welcoming ceremony at the Vienna International Airport, the Pope summed up his three-day seventh international apostolic trip as a pilgrimage.

Saturday he will visit the Marian shrine of Mariazell to celebrate the 850th anniversary of its foundation.

"This Marian sanctuary," the Holy Father explained, "in some way represents the maternal heart of Austria, and has always had a particular importance also for Hungarians and the Slavic peoples."

Benedict XVI said that the shrine, which attracts more than a million pilgrims annually, "symbolizes an openness which not only transcends physical and national frontiers, but, in the person of Mary, reminds us of an essential dimension of human beings: their capacity for openness to God and his word of truth."

The Pontiff added: "Guided and encouraged by Mary, we wish to sharpen our gaze as Christians, in order to see the challenges which need to be met in the spirit of the Gospel and, full of gratitude and hope, to walk from a past which has been at times difficult, yet always filled with grace, towards a future of promise."

On a journey

Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and Cardinal Cristoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, were among the civil and religious leaders on hand to welcome the Pope.

"I intend my pilgrimage to Mariazell to be a journey made in the company of all the pilgrims of our time," the Holy Father said, in the ceremony held in an airport hanger. Pouring rain prevented the welcoming ceremony to take place outside.

Benedict continued: "Mariazell does not only represent 850 years of history, but shows us on the basis of that history -- as reflected in the statue of the Blessed Mother pointing to Christ her Son -- the way to the future."

Mariazell is a small city in the north of the province of Styria, home to some 2,000 residents.

The basilica of the Birth of Our Lady is home to the Magna Mater Austriae (Great Mother of Austria), a wooden statue of Mary that dates back to the founding of the shrine.

The Pope will celebrate Mass in front of the basilica Saturday, feast of the Nativity of Mary.

"As pilgrims to the shrine," the Holy Father said, "we will be united in prayer and, thanks to the communications media, united also with the faithful and all men and women of good will within this country and far beyond its borders."