We begin our journey this Monday to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland. Please pray for the safety and success of this pilgrimage. On the first night of our pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland, we will be staying in the 900-year old Austrian Abbey of Seitenstetten, located midway between our Sound of Music tour in Salzburg and the romantic city of Vienna. This area is dotted with many large and magnificent monasteries that are many hundreds of years old. The foundations for this Benedictine abbey were begun in 1112. By 1114, the new monastery was settled by monks from Göttweig Abbey in the same region. The church was dedicated in 1116, and then the abbey became responsible for the care of the large parish of Aschbach. In 1142, it also covered the large parish of Wolfsbach. Out of these two original parishes were formed the fourteen modern parishes, for which the abbey is still responsible.
In about 1180, the Archbishop of Magdeburg granted the abbey extensive woodlands, with the duty of setting up a monastic cell there for celebrating the Divine Liturgy in perpetuity. There is also some indication during the first century of the abbey’s existence that there was already a school.
Despite many setbacks, including two serious fires and many disputes over property, the abbey gradually developed. By 1347, the community had 22 members. After a rather lengthy period of decline, Abbot Benedikt I introduced the Melk Abbey Reforms at Seitenstetten, bringing about a revival in its spiritual and cultural life. He had a chapel built and dedicated in 1440, establishing the Sonntagberger Pilgrimage under the direction of the abbey. In later years, the abbey was hard hit by political disturbances, the Turkish taxes and, above all, the Protestant Reformation; the number of monks declined sharply during this time.
Not until the time of Abbot Christoph (1572–1602), with the powerful support of the Imperial Council, was any beginning of spiritual revival possible. Under the abbots that followed, the art of the Baroque made its appearance, and the number of monks increased rapidly. It was only after the Thirty Years’ War did Abbot Gabriel Sauer (1648–74) finally succeed in stabilizing the abbey economy, and bringing about a true religious renewal.
Now it was also possible for major building work to begin. Abbot Benedikt II (1687–1717) contracted a famous monastic architect and construction team to build the magnificent Pilgrimage Church of the Holy Trinity. The early Gothic abbey church, in which we will hold our first Mass of this pilgrimage, was lavishly refurbished, and between 1718 and 1747 the Baroque conventual buildings that still stand today were constructed. Ceiling frescoes in the Marble Hall, the library and the grand staircase were completed between 1730-40. The finance for these lavish works came principally from the abbey’s copper mines in Styria and their brass foundry in Upper Austria.
After the difficulties of the anti-monastic policies of Emperor Joseph II and of the Napoleonic wars, the abbey gradually regained its strength through the 19th century. It was thanks to the long tenure of Abbot Theodor Springer (1920–58), that the abbey was brought safely through the economic crisis after World War I, and through the National Socialist period and World War II, without its being dissolved, as were many of the other monasteries in Austria and Germany.
Since the Second World War, more renovations have taken place both to the Pilgrimage Church and to the structure of the abbey itself.
Besides the major works of art and architecture, there are also the Romanesque Knights’ Chapel (Ritterkapelle), the picture gallery, and the garden, which contains about 110 different types of rose, mostly historical.
Our third day will bring us through the mountainous area of the Czech Republic and into Poland, where we will stay at the Emmaus Catholic Youth retreat center. The main altar in the chapel there is the gift of our St. Vincent Ferrer Parish, built about nine years ago, when Archbishop Zimowski installed me as a Canon of his cathedral-basilica, with the given title of Monsignor. He now works in the Vatican, but will be returning to his native Poland to participate with Pope Francis in the closing ceremonies of World Youth Day (which is about a week in length). It will be a great reunion, and the Pope will make a five-day visit to Poland. Members of our Young Adult Group and teens from our Life Teen organization are really so excited to be on this trip of a lifetime. Thank you to all who made this possible!