May marks the beginning of the pilgrimage season. Dusty image or more relevant than ever? On foot or by bike – being on the road together is a symbolic image that the church should reflect on in times of crisis, says Auxiliary Bishop Stefan Zekorn.
Interviewer: Today you are opening this year's pilgrimage season in the pilgrimage site of Werl in the archdiocese of Paderborn. Is the pilgrimage to an image of grace like the one in Werl still relevant in 2019??
Auxiliary Bishop Stefan Zekorn (Diocese of Munster): When I look at the people who do this – the many hundreds of thousands throughout Germany – I see that pilgrimages are totally topical. I see people on the way together with God as their goal. That just feels good.
Interviewer: Are teenagers and young people still enthusiastic about such things??
Zekorn: My perception is that there are a lot of young people in the foot pilgrimage groups. The traditional bus pilgrimage is probably not the style of young people, but bicycle pilgrimages or foot pilgrimages are. There are now even inline skating pilgrimages – there are a lot of young people on them.
Interviewer: What is the motivation to participate in a pilgrimage?
Zekorn: The experience that one can have on a pilgrimage cannot be summed up in one sentence. And it is also not the same for everyone. But I believe that there is great meaning in being on the road together. Being on the road plays an important role. When you are physically on the road, it does something to your soul.
You do it together and pray. This changes and transforms, and so when many people arrive at the shrine, they experience a time that has changed them and led them into the depths of their being. This is very important, especially in our time, which makes us quickly become superficial in everyday life.
Interviewer: How do you personally feel, what does a pilgrimage give you??
Zekorn: I feel the same way. Especially when I make a pilgrimage on foot, for example from Munster to Telgte. Then I experience this inner renewal. And I wish that today of all days, on 1. May, when the pilgrimage season opens in many places of pilgrimage, many people experience it – whether they come on foot or not.
Whether here in Werl or in the other places, the services will be something that enriches the individual and gives a contact with God that we desperately need.
Interviewer: We know the most different places of pilgrimage. For example to St. James, the famous Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela. Most of the pilgrimages are to Marian shrines like Lourdes, Fatima, Altotting, Kevelaer or Werl. There you celebrate the opening today. Where does this longing of the faithful come from, especially to be so close to the Blessed Mother??
Zekorn: Because Mary is so close to us in all our questions and in our everyday life. I believe that very many perceive this – Mary, who herself asked: "How should this actually happen??" Many of us who, yes, necessarily ask in our lives, where is it supposed to go?? By the way, this is the pilgrimage motto of this year.
People also ask themselves: "How can that happen which I perceive, which I long for?. And Mary is the one who bore all this, but in trust in God and from His strength. I believe that many experience that Mary can be a great help for us to do it ourselves. She doesn't always have the concrete answers, but in walking a path with God and trusting in His Spirit, answers can be found.
Interviewer: You have already said it: The biblical word for the pilgrimage season in Werl and other places is "Where shall we go". It is a difficult time for the Church, a time of crisis. What strength for the future can one draw from pilgrimage?
Zekorn: It really is a difficult time for the church. Many are rightly disappointed and frightened by what has become clear in the abysses of sexual abuse. At the same time, I perceive that there is a crack that goes through the Church – a vertical crack through all groupings.
A large majority says: "We need a change in doctrine". But the majority in the universal Church says: "No, this is exactly what we don't need". This is precisely the question that arises: "Where should we go??"
Interviewer: Where should we go?
Zekorn: I think the crucial thing is to start going on pilgrimage and praying. My experience and that of the Gospel is that the concrete answers come from the relationship with Jesus Christ and from daily discipleship. This is what the Gospel invites us to do again and again. When the many statues of the Virgin Mary at the places of pilgrimage literally hold out Jesus to us, they show him to us as the solution.
Maybe some will say "okay, that's not a very concrete answer", but again: I believe the concrete answers come from prayer and daily discipleship. The history of the Church has shown that if we look too much from ourselves for answers, this often leads to undesirable developments and sometimes also to divisions.
The interview was conducted by Matthias Friebe.