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How Do Shrines Contribute to the New Evangelization?

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

What is evangelization, who is called to be part of it, and what wisdom does Saint Augustine offer us? This series reflects on the New Evangelization and Augustinian Spirituality.

In 2017, Pope Francis issued Sanctuarium in Ecclesia in which he lays out a vision for shrine ministry in the context of the new evangelization:

“… Shrines are called to play a role in the new evangelization of society today … the Church is called to evaluate in pastoral terms the motions of the heart that are expressed through pilgrimages to Shrines and places of devotion.”

Santuarium in Ecclesia, no. 5.

Shrines are an important part of Augustinian ministry. In North America, the Augustinians have three Shrines: The National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia, the St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel in Chicago, and the Our Lady of Grace Shrine in King City, Ontario. The Augustinians are blessed to welcome people from all over the world to these places.

Pope Francis identifies such shrines as places of encounter:

“Here they experience deeply God’s closeness, the tenderness of the Virgin Mary and the company of the Saints: an experience of true spirituality that can not be underestimated, at risk of mortifying the Holy Spirit and the life of grace. Many Shrines have been perceived as part of the life of people, families and communities to the point of shaping the identity of generations, and even affecting the history of some nations.”

Santuarium in Ecclesia, no. 2.

Shrines are places where the faithful “receive support” for the “ordinary path of faith” they find in the parish and Christian community (no. 3). In other words, Shrine ministry does not replace or compete with parish ministry, but rather complements it with the unique encounter it provides to the faithful who visit.

How any one Shrine specifically does this depends on the features of the Shrine. As someone who ministers at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, I have the privilege of meeting people from numerous walks of life who travel from all around the world (from our local neighborhood to countries thousands of miles away) to encounter the life example and intercession of Saint Rita. They experience this encounter through her life which is illustrated in a rich array of art throughout the Shrine, through the Sacraments and Novenas offered at the Shrine, through relics, and other people who visit with a devotion to this great Saint. Through these features, people experience an encounter they cannot necessarily experience in their local parish.

RELATED: What Saints Surround You?

One day someone stopped into the Shrine as I was walking through the pews to collect old bulletins that had been left behind. Seeing me in my religious habit the man approached saying, “Man, I just want you to know I’m an atheist, but I love the artwork in this place. Can you take a few minutes and talk to me about some of the art here?” I used the illustrations contained within the various murals and stained-glass windows to talk about the life Saint Rita and how many people today who are concerned about the rising violence in our cities and political division across our country find hope as they reflect on the life of Saint Rita. We ended up talking for over an hour.

RELATED: Saint Rita and the Narrow Way to Peace

As we continue to discern how God is calling us to be part of the New Evangelization and how Augustinian Spirituality supports that calling and mission, the role of Augustinian shrines and their relationship with parochial and education ministry is an important part of the discussion. How do Shrines enhance the pilgrimage and encounter with God that parishioners of Augustinian parishes and students of Augustinian schools experience in our existing ministries? How might Shrines meet someone currently outside the Church by helping them discover the presence of God in their own restless search for peace, purpose, and meaning?

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