The Pope arrived at the Austrian Marian shrine of Mariazell, having traveled by car from the apostolic nunciature in Vienna. On his arrival he was welcomed by more than 50,000 people.
The town of Mariazell in the mountains of Styria was founded in the year 1157 following a miracle that befell a monk called Magnus. A great rock blocking his passage miraculously opened after he had invoked the help of the Virgin. In the 13th century Prince Henry Ladislao of Moravia built the first church there as a sign of thanks to the Virgin for his return to health after an illness. In 1399, Pope Boniface IX granted plenary indulgence for the week following the Octave of the Assumption, a move which led to a great increase in pilgrimages to Mariazell. In 1907, the church was elevated to the rank of minor basilica, and in 1908 the image of the Virgin received the papal crown.
The shrine was modified in the Baroque style during the 17th century, although it still has a Gothic portal. Inside is the Chapel of Graces, built by King Louis the Great of Hungary following a victory against the Turks. The chapel holds the famous Romanesque statue of the Virgin, draped in her traditional robe. The shrine and the image of the Virgin are among the most famous and visited in Europe.
The Pope was greeted by the abbot of Lambrecht, the superior and the rector of the shrine, then entered the church where around 2,000 people were awaiting his arrival. He prayed before the image of the Virgin Mary and, shortly before 10:30 a.m., climbed the podium erected beside the basilica to celebrate Mass for the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the patronal feast of Mariazell.
"For 850 years," said the Holy Father in his homily, "pilgrims from different peoples and nations have been traveling here; they come to pray for the intentions of their hearts and their homelands. Making a pilgrimage means setting out in a particular direction, traveling towards a destination. This gives a beauty of its own even to the journey and to the effort involved.
"Among the pilgrims of Jesus' genealogy there were many who forgot the goal and wanted to make themselves the goal. Again and again, though, the Lord called forth people whose longing for the goal drove them forward, people who directed their whole lives towards it.
"The awakening of the Christian faith," he added, "the dawning of the Church of Jesus Christ was made possible, because there were people in Israel whose hearts were searching, people who did not rest content with custom, but who looked further ahead, in search of something greater. Because their hearts were expectant, they were able to recognize in Jesus the One Whom God had sent."
"We too need an open and restless heart like theirs. This is what pilgrimage is all about. Today as in the past, it is not enough to be more or less like everyone else and to think like everyone else. Our lives have a deeper purpose. We need God, the God who has shown us His face and opened His heart to us: Jesus Christ. Certainly, there are many great figures in history who have had beautiful and moving experiences of God. Yet these are still human experiences, and therefore finite. Only He is God and therefore only He is the bridge that brings God and man together."
If we call Jesus "the one universal Mediator of salvation," said the Pope, "this does not mean that we despise other religions, nor that we are arrogantly proposing the absolutism of our own ideas; on the contrary, it means that we are gripped by Him Who has touched our hearts and lavished gifts upon us, so that we, in turn, can offer gifts to others.
"In fact, our faith is decisively opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth, as if this were more than he could cope with. This attitude of resignation with regard to truth lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe. If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat.
"We need the truth. Yet admittedly, in the light of our history we are fearful that faith in the truth might entail intolerance. If we are gripped by this fear, which is historically well grounded, then it is time to look towards Jesus as we see Him in the shrine at Mariazell. We see Him here in two images: as the Child in His mother's arms, and as the Crucified One. These two images tell us this: truth prevails not through external force. Rather, it is humble and it yields itself to man only via the inner force of its veracity. Truth proves itself in love."
To the plea to "show us Jesus" said the Pope, "Mary responds, showing Him to us in the first instance as a Child. God has made Himself small for us. God comes not with external force, but He comes in the powerlessness of His love, which is where His true strength lies."
"The Child Jesus naturally reminds us also of all the children in the world. Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished — when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future."
"Let us look briefly now at the Crucified One above the high altar. God saved the world not by the sword, but by the Cross. In dying, Jesus extends His arms, a gesture of embracing, by which He wishes to draw us to Himself."
"To gaze upon Christ! If we do this, we realize that Christianity is more than and different from a moral code, from a series of requirements and laws. It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death." Yet "it also contains within itself great moral strength, which is so urgently needed today on account of the challenges of our time. If with Jesus Christ and His Church we constantly re-read the Ten Commandments of Sinai, then a great teaching unfolds before us. It is first and foremost a 'yes' to God, to a God Who loves us and leads us, Who carries us and yet allows us our freedom: indeed, it is He who makes our freedom real (the first three commandments). It is a 'yes' to the family (fourth commandment), a 'yes' to life (fifth commandment), a 'yes' to responsible love (sixth commandment), a 'yes' to solidarity, to social responsibility and to justice (seventh commandment), a 'yes' to truth (eighth commandment) and a 'yes' to respect for other people and for what is theirs (ninth and tenth commandments). By the strength of our friendship with the living God we live this manifold "yes" and at the same time we carry it as a signpost into our world."