Otto Herschan looks forward to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Austria
0 n September 7 Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit Austria and especially the country's most famous pilgrimage shrine, Our Lady of Mariazell.
In 1157 a monk was sent from the monastic foundation of St Lambrecht to spread the Faith in the mountainous wilderness to the east. He carried with him a carved wooden statue of Our Lady. The monk soon lost his way as mountain after mountain rose before him. Ultimately worn out, he fell to the ground and implored Our Lady for help. Unbelievably, the mountain seemed to open to offer him a passage to the valley beyond. So the monk decided to build a tent for Our Lady. It is now Mariazell — the tent of Our Lady.
Today, in the Chapel of Grace, at the back of the basilica, is the statue of Our Lady with the Christ-child.
This year is the 850th anniversary of the event. Pope Benedict, who as Cardinal Ratzinger first visited Mariazell in 2004, will, on September 8, Our Lady's birthday, the day after he arrives in Vienna, celebrate Mass at 10.30 am in the square in front of the basilica. At 4.45 pm Vespers will be in the recently restored basilica, for secular and order priests, deacons and seminarians.
For centuries Mariazell had been a focus of pilgrimages not only from Austria. Pilgrims gathered here from further afield, especially Hungary. The erection of the Iron Curtain denied those pilgrims the opportunity of making pilgrimages here. But after the Iron Curtain was destroyed there was also another reason for Hungarians to come.
In 1956 I had interviewed the exiled Archbishop of Budapest, Cardinal Mindszenty, in Vienna and shortly afterwards visited Mariazell, where I met its Benedictine prior. Talking of my interview with the cardinal, the prior told me of a recent encounter he had had with the cardinal at Mariazell. Diplomatically, he had put it to the cardinal that, many years from then when the cardinal died, he would agree to be buried in the basilica, as presumably the Iron Curtain would make it impossible for his remains to be returned to his native country. This resulted in Cardinal Mindszenty having his tomb in Mariazell until the Iron Curtain was demolished. In due course his remains returned in splendour, with troops lining the route in salute, to the country where he had been tortured and imprisoned before seeking asylum in the American Embassy and being brought to Vienna.
The Irish playwright Bridget Boland recounted the story in her play The Prisoner, which was made into a film starring Alec Guinness as Cardinal Mindszenty and Jack Hawkins as the Inquisitor.
On a later occasion I was at Mariazell with Cardinal Konig of Vienna, when he went there to celebrate his 80th birthday. An Austrian traditional folk music band entertained the cardinal in the square in front of the basilica. To the amusement of the crowds the conductor handed his baton to the cardinal, who happily continued conducting until he handed the baton to the former President of Austria, Dr Rudolf ICirchschlager. On Sunday, September 9, at 10 am the Pope will celebrate Mass in St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, where in 2004, as Cardinal Ratzinger (on behalf of Pope John Paul II), he had delivered the eulogy at Cardinal Kiinig's funeral. This will be followed at noon by the Angelus in the square in front of the cathedral. The Austrian Hierarchy have said that they are looking for quality rather than quantity of attendance.
Maybe that is the reason for a brief visit by the Pope to the Cistercian monastery at Heiligenlcreuz (Holy Cross) not far from Vienna. It was in the silence of the monastery that the nephew of the then Abbot, Gregor Henkel-Donnersmark, conceived and wrote the script of the film The Lives of Others, which won this year's Oscar for the best foreign film.
Heilgenlcreuz is near Mayerling where Rudolf, the son of the Emperor Franz Josef, and his lady friend, were found shot dead. The mystery of many books and films. It was an Irishman from Cork, Count Taafe, Chancellor to the Emperor, who to avoid the scandal of the lady's corpse being found with that of the Crown Prince at Mayerling conceived the idea of sending her corpse by coach, seated between two coachmen, to the Abbey of nearby Heiligenkreuz.