Manila (Fides Service) – Pilgrimages and visits to shrines are one of the most important religious aspects of history and culture of religions in Asia and therefore also an environment of evangelisation which must be carefully studied. (cfr Ecclesia in Asia, 6 e 51). In fact Catholic shrines in Asia are often visited by many non Christians. These were the basic reasons for the First Conference of Shrine Rectors from Asia taking place in Manila in the Philippines (21-25 October). The conference was organised jointly by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, Commission for Migrants of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Philippines (ECMI-CBCP). The theme chosen is eloquent: “The Shrine: a place of Welcome and of Encounter ”.
The Conference was opened by Bishop Ramon Arguelles, President of ECMI. Then Mgr Jordi Gayà of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples PCMI read an address written by Bishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the PCMI. In his address Bishop Marchetto explained the reason for his absence in Manila: he wished to be present when Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao (President of the PCMI) was created Cardinal by the Pope during the Concistory on October 22. “ This First Conference of Shrine Rectors from Asia was convened in compliance with the desire to implement the exhortation of Pope John Paul II to strengthen the bonds of collaboration between the various Churches of Asia . This is in line with the action of our Pontifical Council, which stems from the First World Conference on the Pastoral Care of Shrines and Pilgrimages held in Rome in 1992” Bishop Marchetto said and he added: “In a world in which human mobility plays such a decisive role, “the Church is called on to proclaim Christ’s Gospel in a society where cultures, ethnic groups and religions enter into continuous dialogue, which is often marked by considerable tensions. In this respect, shrines – here in Asia, but also in Europe and the Americas – are increasingly places where religions may coexist in a very direct fashion. This is because shrines are chosen as places that may foster the religious experience of people from different religions”.
Pilgrimage, which is also a “a sign of the state of Christ’s disciples in the world”, Bishop Marchetto continued, offers an immense series of possibilities for pastoral care and evangelisation, the building of ecclesial communities, the renewing presence of theses communities as minorities among the peoples of. Quoting from various Church documents on the theme, he stressed the most apt description of Shrines “Shrines in Asia: places of prayer and rivers where life flows, because in them the Christian community celebrates and experiences its union with the Trinity through close participation in the Resurrection of Christ.”
Shrines and pilgrimage must however take into consideration the social and cultural reality in which they find themselves, not neglecting the triple dialogue to which the Church in Asia is committed with religions, cultures, and with the poor. In his address Bishop Marchetto underlined that a shrine must be “an image of God’s welcome”, a place where all experience “the Father’s welcome offered to everyone in Christ, his only begotten Son, so that in the gift of his Spirit they may live in fraternal communion, bear witness to salvation, and take part in building a world of peace and solidarity.”
The Conference Programme includes a reflection on “The Relation between the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia and Catholic Shrines”, by Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus (Philippines) and talks by a representative of the Congregation for the Clergy and rectors of various Shrines. Bishop Gaspar Quintana of Copiapò in Chile, President of the American Association of Shrines, will present the association’s activity and future programmes.
(S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 23/10/2003; lines 45; words 638)