Central European Bishops Outline Priorities for the Faithful

As 100,000 Pilgrims Gather at Marian Shrine in Austria

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MARIAZELL, Austria, MAY 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Bishops of the eight Central European episcopal conferences, which organized a "pilgrimage of the peoples" to the Shrine of Mariazell, articulated the priorities of the Christian commitment in the continent.



About 100,000 pilgrims were on hand this past weekend for a historic meeting between faithful of the Churches of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria.

The weekend marked the conclusion of Central European Catholic Day, a yearlong initiative of the countries' bishops to launch a message of unity, reconciliation and solidarity.

More than 200 cardinals and bishops took part in the pilgrimage, in gratitude to Christ "for having sustained the Churches of Central Europe in the hour of persecution," said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, John Paul II's special envoy, during the Mass he presided over, in the Marian shrine.

It was also a thanksgiving for the "gift of the regained religious freedom," which now allows Christians "to contribute to social peace" with "the method of fraternal dialogue toward all" in a region where hatred and nationalism have left wounds, Cardinal Sodano added, according to Vatican Radio.

The event, described by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, as an expression of a human and habitable Europe, began on Thursday with the celebration of the "silent candles" in memory of the Christians, priests, religious and laity persecuted by Communist governments.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the presidents of the eight episcopal conferences that organized the event, read in the language of each country the "Message of Mariazell."

The message exhorted the faithful "not to hide your faith! Not to remain on the side of the road to a common future! You too must go forward, think, talk, and work and try to unite us to all persons of good will!"

Among the appeals the bishops made in their message were:

-- "Make people see Christ." Given that many people in Europe do not know Christ, or know him only superficially, the faithful are exhorted to be missionary Christians.

-- "Learn to pray and teach how to pray." It adds: "Parishes and communities must be increasingly schools of prayer."

-- "Show the signs of the faith." The message said that Christian signs such as the cross and other symbols must find their place in private and public life.

-- "Preserve the Sunday culture." The day of celebration before God and with God, is also the day of the family, said the message.

-- "Protect and promote life." The faithful were urged to give special attention to marriage and the family as the indispensable basic cells for society and the Church.

The full message will be read this Pentecost Sunday in the parishes of the eight countries.