Last week I took part in a four-day walking pilgrimage to Mariazell with a large part of our community. Many of us had walked to Mariazell with groups from the monasteries parishes or elsewhere, but it was the first time that the community as such made such a walking pilgrimage. The occasion was the year of mercy. Many of us had received new assignments, and it was a good opportunity to entrust them to Our Lady.
There are two main routes to Mariazell from Vienna: the Via Sacra, which is the oldest route, and the Wiener Wallfahrerweg. We took the Wiener Wallfahrerweg, which is supposedly more scenic, as it is more mountainous and goes through less densely populated areas. It is however the “more challenging” route, as the Mostviertel Tourism Office puts it. This made it a real penance for those of us who spend most of our time in doors. On Tuesday there was torrential rain, and we took the steepest ascent from Kaumberg to Kieneck. We completely exhausted when we reached the cabin at the top of Kieneck. But entering that warm cabin after the cold and wet outside was like going to Heaven. This is perhaps one of the main reasons for walking pilgrimages: to remind us that we are in via toward the heavenly city. “If they had been remembering the country from which they came, they would have had occasion to turn back; but as it is they long for a better one, that is, the one in heaven.” (Hebrews 11:15-16)
Mariazell is the most important Marian shrine in Austria. The name “Zell” comes from a cell built by a 12th century monk of Sankt Lambrecht to house a statue of Our Lady after a boulder was miraculously split. The “cell” is still vaguely visible in the marble construction in the center of the Church. Mariazell is in the Southern Austrian province of Styria, but near the border to Lower Austria. Growing up I lived for some years in Gaming, which is just on the Lower Austrian side of the border. We often visited Mariazell.