(Vatican Radio) Three thousand pilgrimage operators and rectors of shrines gathered in the Paul VI hall on Thursday to hear Pope Francis speak about the beauty and devotion of those who go on pilgrimages and visit shines, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The Pope told these Jubilee participants that making pilgrimages to shrines is one of the most eloquent expressions of the faith of God's people, and is a form of evangelization which needs to be increasingly promoted and valued.
Listen to Lydia O'Kane's report
At Marian shrines and at shrines to the Saints, the Holy Father said, there is a profound spirituality, with each person bringing a special wish from their heart and a special prayer.
But Pope Francis also noted that, it would be a mistake to assume that those who go on a group pilgrimage do not live out the experience in a personal way.
In fact, continued the Pope, pilgrims carry their own history, faith, lights and shadows of their own lives and when they enter a sanctuary they immediately feel at home, welcomed, understood and supported.
The Holy Father went on to say that the pilgrims who come to a sanctuary are often tired, hungry, thirsty physically but also spiritually.
Those that go on a pilgrimage and who reach their destination, Pope Francis explained, should feel at home, loved and looked on with eyes of mercy. Anyone, he said, young or old, rich or poor, sick or troubled, the curious tourist, can receive a welcome because in each one there is a heart that seeks God.
Sacrament of Reconciliation
Stressing the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially in this Jubilee Year, the Pope underlined that those who approach the confessional do so because they are repentant of their sins. God, he added, does not condemn, but welcomes and hugs them, like the father of the prodigal son.
The Holy Father also stressed that priests who carry out a ministry in sanctuaries must have a heart of mercy; their attitude must be that of a father.
In conclusion, Pope Francis prayed people would celebrate this Jubilee of Mercy as one big pilgrimage.