From Stella Musulin
VIENNA. THE news that the ancient Benedictine Priory of Mariazell in Austria may be taken over by the monks of St. Ottilien in Bavaria is causing anxiety throughout Austria and beyond.
The suggestion was first made a year ago but was turned down by the Benedictine Abbots' Conference in Salzburg. The Prior of Mariazell, P. Hermann Geist (52) has now allowed the contents of a private memorandum to be known. in which he reports that the plan is again very much alive, and in which he appeals to all Austrian abbots, and above all to the Benedictine Procurator in Rome, Abbot Hieronymus (James) to rally to the support of this revered shrine.
The significance and influence of Mariazell go far beyong the frontiers of Austria. For over 800 years it has been the most secred of all shrines. in the eyes not only of the Austrians, but of the peoples of the whole Danube basin.
The Hungarians in particular look upon Mariazell as their own, and call it Magna Hungarorum Domina, just as to the Austrians the shrine is Magna Mater Austriac; throughout the centuries Mariam!l has been the main spiritual bulwark of the Austrian and Hungarian peoples against the onslaughts of Islam, and now of Communism. a unique source of grace, and focal point of Marian veneration.
Today. pilgrimages are still unceasing and in fact greatly on the increase. lest year 60.000 foreigners from 32 countries made their pilgrimage to the Chapel of Grace: altogether half a million pilgrims go there annually. There are really two issues which ley onlookers may consider. First, material consideration. The Priory is. like most monasteries. below strength. The eight monks are, however, assisted during times of greatest pressure by visiting priests from all over the country. It has now been stated in high circles that it should be possible to strengthen the clerical personnel in the Priory by transfers from outside.
Secondly, it may seem strange that nowadays, when political unity in Europe. to say nothing of Christian unity, arc in the forefront of people's minds. such strong emotions should be aroused by a proposal that a German (Bavarian) Benedictine community should take over an Austrian Benedictine shrine. But it is evident that many senior members of the Austrian hierarchy strongly disapprove. For one thing Pope Pius XII raised Mariazell to the status of an independent Priory under a reigning prior (prior regens), who. according to experts in canon law. can only place his resignation in the hands of the Pope himself.
It is also feared that the loss of Mariazell's independent status together with a change in its national character (not to be understood its narrow nationalistic terms) would cause a great fall-off in pilgrimages and devotions, and distress innumerable members of the laity both here and abroad. above all in Hungary. And it might cause a dangerous prece
dent, because the life of several of Austria's famous monasteries is precarious. Mariazell is a shrine of great sanctity, whose traditions are inseparably bound up with the history of the Danubian peoples. It means to them what Alt-Otting means to the Southern Germans. or Walsingham to the English. We think that these traditions are not chauvinistic. that they lie very near the roots of our faith, and ought not to be overthrown.