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World Youth Day tied to 'culture of pilgrimage.' (includes related article on anti-Catholic reaction to the papal visit)

My visit to Denver," Pope John Paul II told the bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, May 28, "will be truly a pilgrimage which I, along with so many young men and women, am preparing for through reflection, prayer and penance." He invited the bishops to join him in this exercise.

Addressing the bishops of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, June 8, John Paul further explained: "This is a pilgrimage of faith and friendship to encounter Christ in the city -- in his Eucharistic self-offering, in the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, in the prayers of his people."

John Paul is probably the first person to have spoken of a visit to Denver as a pilgrimage. He thinks of all of this globe-trotting trips in this way. He sees them as "pilgrimages to the heart of the church."

The idea of "going on pilgrimage" comes naturally to him and owes a great deal to his European background. Moreover, in communist Poland the church was denied any public visibility. Catholics were confined to the church building and the sacristy. The only exception to this rule was the annual pilgrimage to Czestochowa to venerate the "Black Madonna" -- an icon that mysteriously arrived there some time in the 14th century.

Slashed by a Swedish Lutheran sword in 1665 and saved by the warrior monks, the Madonna of Czestochowa became a symbol of Catholic resistance to foreign tyranny. In the early 19th century Czar Alexander I razed its fortifications to the ground.

For John Paul, the pilgrimage is not some kind of accessory to the spiritual life; it is at the very center of it. On becoming pope, he tried to transfer this same attitude first to Italy, then to Europe and finally to the whole church.

His international trips should not blind us to the fact that he has traveled more freely within Italy than any previous pope. And he has reanimated ancient pilgrimage centers.

June 19 he was in Macerata, a city 27 kilometers from Loreto. There John Paul said Mass for several thousand young members of the Communion and Liberation movement who then set out on pilgrimage throughout the night, arriving, as dawn broke, at the hilltop shrine of Loreto.

Legend says that the house at Nazareth where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived, was miraculously transported from the Holy Land and deposited here on this rocky eminence overlooking the Adriatic. Antedating Lourdes and Fatima -- not to mention the upstart Medjugorje -- by several centuries, Loreto is the chief shrine of Italy.

Dioceses organize bus trips there. Pope John XXIII went to Loreto to pray for the Second Vatican Council -- the only time he left the Vatican. It is moving because it is a place where many people have prayed hard. It has an atmosphere independent of the legend of its origins.

As an Englishman, I much prefer the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. For the medieval pilgrim it was more important even than Canterbury, about which Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his tales. Kings went there to do penance. Erasmus visited it on the eve of its dissolution. Now, though Anglican and Catholic pilgrimages have been revived in the 20th century, medieval Walsingham lies in ruins.

The origin of Walsingham was a dream or a vision in which Our Lady revealed the exact dimensions of her house at Nazareth so that it could be rebuilt in the English countryside according to her specifications.

But my first pilgrimage ever was to Chartres in the 1950s, when I was a student in Paris. It started on the Friday before Whitsunday.

It involved serious physical effort. We traveled from Paris by train to three different towns within 60 kilometers of Chartres. We then marched along the road in "chapters" of 60, singing the rosary.

Each "chapter" had a chaplain. For some reason, I have forgotten, I marched with the Paris School of Agriculture (known familiarly as les fumiers (the dung heaps). Our chaplain was a brilliant young Jesuit patristic scholar called Jean Danielou.

We spent the night in barns, sleeping on the hay. On the Saturday morning, we met in a natural amphitheater where 200 priests said Mass simultaneously. It was the best they could do in pre-concelebration days.

Of course the pilgrimage to Chartres, which in those days gathered 20,000 students, owed a lot to the Catholic poet and socialist patriot Charles Peguy, killed on the first day of World War I.

What emerges from all this is that in Europe there is a "culture of pilgrimage" in which it is taken for granted, even by someone like myself who lives in "Protestant" England. If that is true of me, how much more is it true of Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II.

In Communist Poland the pilgrimage to Czestochowa in the month of August was the only way in which the church could have any contact with youth, let alone influence.

Going on pilgrimage to Czestochowa was a serious business. It took a week of backpacking. Friendly farmers along the route put you up in barns -- just as in France.

Priests mingled with the students, heard confessions at halts, dispensed spiritual advice. It was like going on retreat. Then Vatican II discovered that the church was a "pilgrim church." That was what we had all learned, with much sweat and toil, on the dusty roads that led to Loreto, Walsingham, Chartres, Czestochowa.

Now John Paul has tried hard to recapture the genuine spirit of the medieval pilgrimage in his World Youth Days. In 1989 it was held at Compostela in Northern Spain at the shrine of St. James -- site of the greatest medieval pilgrimage.

John Paul said that "awareness of Europe" was the result of pilgrimages: "In the centuries when a homogeneous and spiritually united continent was being shaped, the whole of Europe came here to the 'memorial' of St. James. It was one of the places that favored the mutual understanding of the so very different European peoples, the Latins, the Germans, the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons and the Slavs."

"The pilgrimage," John Paul went on, "brought together, put in contact and united all those peoples who throughout the centuries, once touched by the preaching of Christ's apostles, accepted the gospel, and at the same time were born as peoples and nations."

First the nations were "baptized" -- Augustine in Canterbury in 597, Adalbert in Poland in 966, Vladimir in Kiev in 988 -- and then Europe itself was baptized and acquired its identity through its baptism.

After Compostela in 1989, the next World Youth Day was a pilgrimage to -- obviously -- Czestochowa. It was the first time that John Paul had been able to invite the youth of Europe and the world to the shrine that meant so much to him. No doubt it did wonders for the Polish tourist industry, but it didn't quite recapture the spirit of the pilgrimages in the communist era. There were too many wild swings between "consumerism" on the one hand and chaos and discomfort on the other for minds to concentrate on prayer.

Not everyone understood "pilgrimage" in John Paul's ennobling sense. The result was that Czestochowa 1991 was more like a youth rally of right-wing supporters of the pope than a genuine pilgrimage.

If that happened at Czestochowa, which has a long tradition of pilgrimages, what will happen at Denver, where there is none?

Papal visit stirs up anti-Catholic urge

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

DENVER -- As the date for a visit here by Pope John Paul II draws near, native anti-papists are becoming restless.

Among the latest are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement and the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Church Movement. They are passing out an 80-page booklet denouncing the pope and warning of an impending church-state alliance that will strip people of their right to attend church on Saturday.

"There are still churches that believe the pope is the Antichrist. When we worship him, we are not worshiping the creator. It is idolatry," said Larry Watts, pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church Reform Movement church, who is not participating in the booklet's distribution.

Reiner Kremer, minister at the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement church has been quoted saying he plans to distribute 90,000 copies of the booklet to coincide with the pope's mid-August visit in order to warn people that the Catholic church is "a system that can be oppressive and is growing stronger." Both churches are located in Aurora, a Denver suburb.

Robert Feeney, spokesman for the Denver archdiocese, said Kremer's tract drive represents nothing new. "Anti-Catholicism is as American as apple pie. It is the deepest bias in the fabric of American history," he said. "They have just taken old tracts that have been circulating for years and put new covers on them."

Overall, the spirit of anti-Catholicism isn't playing a big part in the World Youth Day scenario, Archbishop Francis Stafford told NCR. "I sense a great deal of support in the (Denver) metro area, even from the media."
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Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 2, 1993
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