There was a meeting this morning at Saint Joseph’s Oratory, organized by the Archdiocese in conjunction with the leadership of the various shrines in the area. The Quebecois spiritual heritage is rich in shrines, and Montreal particularly so. The Oratory is but one example, being the largest shrine dedicated to Saint Joseph in the entire world, with a couple of million visitors every year. There are others, such as Marie-Reine-des-Coeurs (Mary Queen of Hearts), and La Réparation (now called Shrine of the Sacred Heart and Saint Padre Pio).
The goal of the meeting this morning was to see how the shrines can be (or already are) involved in our diocesan project for the new evangelization. Many people spoke of the ministry of welcome that shrines provide, in that they tend to keep their doors open for longer hours, as well as receive visitors from many walks of life (not all of whom are Catholic, or even Christian).
This makes sense to me, because in the end the key protagonist in the work of conversion is the Holy Spirit, active in the hearts of people. This interior work of conversion, however, urges the individual to some kind of response, a response that very often they feel a need to manifest in some external way. Going on a pilgrimmage to a shrine allows the person a chance to do things as simple as sit in a church, light a candle, get something blessed, ask for prayers, go to confession… (ok, maybe the last one doesn’t seem that simple to many people, but there is no mistaking its power).
There is no point calling people to conversion if we don’t give them the tools with which to respond. At Pentecost, Saint Peter preached on the need for conversion. The first question he was asked was, “What must we do?” In other words, his listeners wanted to respond to this message of good news. Their hearts were already “cut to the quick”, so they weren’t looking for more information. Instead, they wanted a means of action, to take the next step. For me, that is a key part of the mission of a shrine: to help people take the next step in their faith, whatever that might be.