Q: What can you tell me about Our Lady's Shrine at Kevelaer?
A: The shrine of Mary, "Comforter of the Afflicted," had its origins in the Thirty Years War (1618- 1648), which had devastated the region of northern Germany. In 1642, Heinrich Busman, a merchant, obtained an engraving of Mary pictured in front of the city of Luxembourg, and installed it in a shrine at the crossing of the Cologne-Amsterdam trade route. In 1654, the Chapel of Mercy, a hexagonal structure, was erected to house the picture; the image has remained in that shrine. A basilica and facilities for pilgrims were later built, but the Chapel of Mercy with its image of Mary is the heart of this shrine.
After World War II, Kevelaer became a place of reconciliation between French and German Catholics. In 1948, Bishop Pierre-Marie Theas of Lourdes, one of the founders of Pax Christi meeting, came as a pilgrim of peace and reconciliation to Kevelaer. The first Pax Christi was held at Kevelaer in 1949. In commemoration of this event, there is a Pax Christi chapel containing a Lamp of Peace, lit at Lourdes in 1949; every Saturday, a Mass for peace is celebrated in this chapel.
Pope John Paul II's encyclical on the Marian Year, Mother of the Redeemer, speaks of the "geography of faith and Marian devotion," a reference to the presence of Mary, embodied in many cultures and devotions, in shrines and places of pilgrimage throughout the world. The pillars of the Pax Christi chapel are inscribed with the names of the places of pilgrimage to Mary--a reminder that all pilgrims are with Mary in a unity which transcends the characteristics of each Marian shrine.
Each year more than half a million people from Germany and the Benelux countries come on a pilgrimage to Kevelaer. Over the centuries people have been drawn to the unpretentious picture of the Virgin "Comforter of the Afflicted," and it is this attraction which may provide the real message: "The manifestation of the will of God is not to be found in the magnificent, prodigious, the awe-inspiring, all-encompassing irreversibility-- on the contrary, there is nothing so inconspicuous that He could not elevate it to achieve greatness." (Richard Schulte-Staade, Pastor of Kevelaer)
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