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Marian embrace: Gänswein speaks of loneliness and solace in first public appearance

Archbishop Georg Gänswein in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 25, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

CNA Newsroom, Aug 16, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

In the bustling heart of Catholicism that is Rome, Archbishop Georg Gänswein once stood as a close aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. On Tuesday, the former prefect of the Papal Household found himself seeking solace in a tiny Bavarian hamlet called Maria Vesperbild, which typically boasts a modest population of 34. 

Yet, on the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, this quiet village in Bavaria’s Swabian district was transformed, drawing several hundred pilgrims, all eager to witness the archbishop’s return to the public eye.

The contrast was stark: from the grandeur of Vatican corridors to the serene simplicity of a rural shrine dedicated to Our Lady. But it was here, amid the rolling wooded hills and devout pilgrims, that Gänswein’s voice resonated with poignant clarity, calling to attention the significance of the day. 

“We can only be grateful to mother Church that she has refrained from taming or dumbing down the faith, preferring to expose herself to ridicule and incomprehension rather than end up as a slick and indifferent thing that no one will disagree with but that no one will celebrate anymore,” the prelate said. 

“Mary’s assumption promises the acceptance that every person longs for.”

Speaking publicly for the first time since leaving Rome after the death of Benedict, Gänswein made it disarmingly clear that he is no stranger to emotional turmoil and desolation. 

“Every person longs to be accepted,” the 67-year-old reflected during his sermon, a sentiment that seemed to echo his personal journey. The archbishop alluded to the many doors that had been shut in his face, the “slander from the shadows,” and the profound feelings of loneliness one can grapple with.

His words struck a chord, not just for their theological depth, but because they revealed a man coming to terms with his past and seeking a path forward.

The Marian shrine’s director, Monsignor Erwin Reichart, speaking of Gänswein’s visit, remarked: “In Maria Vesperbild, he is primarily seen as an archbishop, a successor to the Apostles. But beyond titles and roles, he’s a man who has found a semblance of ‘home’ here.”

Gänswein’s departure from the Vatican following the death of Benedict XVI and subsequent dismissal by Pope Francis had left many speculating about his future. His relocation to his home diocese of Freiburg, away from the epicenter of Catholic power, was seen by some as a fall from grace. Yet, in his recent appearance, there was a sense of rejuvenation. His humorous remark during a book presentation — “I am here, looking for work, so to speak” — showcased a resilient spirit laced with a touch of humility.

As the Tagespost noted, almost a decade ago Gänswein celebrated the pontifical Mass on the solemnity of the Assumption in the local Fátima grotto. This year, he returned to Maria Vesperbild, not just as a celebrant but as a beacon of faith for many — and a point of personal connection to the late Bavarian pontiff, Benedict XVI.

The open-air Mass at Maria Vesperbild, followed by a candle-lit procession through the woods, is an annual highlight, drawing thousands. But this year, with Gänswein at the helm, it held a special significance. His association with the pilgrimage site was evident in the warmth with which he was received.

While the future remains uncertain for the archbishop, his appearance suggests a man on a path of redemption and acceptance, ready to embrace whatever lies ahead.

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