We are fully justified in saying that the first talk given in the little Schoenstatt shrine on 18 October 1914 is its Founding Document. All that developed later was germinally present in it. Whoever reads it will feel that Divine Providence was at work behind every word, in order to provide a remedy for the illness of our times. If nothing else had been said than the sentence “According to the plans of Divine Providence, the great European war is meant to be an extraordinary means to promote the work of your self-sanctification” it would be worth our while to remember that hour. However, according to the Founding Document the striving for self-sanctification is meant to prove our love continually, in order to move the Blessed Mother to “set up her throne distribute her treasures and work miracles of grace” in Schoenstatt’s shrine. God alone knows how the everyday lives of many people have been given meaning, value and strength since 1914. Even the hopeless suffering of our times is mitigated and is understood as a call from eternal Love.
We experienced this in a particularly impressive way in July 1947 when we conducted our first week of work and retreat for our “homeless”. It is not easy to do justice to their suffering. I am sure it is one of the most fruitful that the war has brought us. The most painful thing is that it cannot be mitigated by human means alone. Even the most sacrificial love can only help them bear the burden, it cannot heal them. Many who took part in the week had hardly heard about Schoenstatt, or did not know what it was all about. Market by the loss of their possessions, by cares and need, they experienced that Schoenstatt is a place of grace, which offers them a home and a fullness of supernatural treasures. Some quotes from their letters can possibly show bst what these days awakened in them: “A number of weeks have passed since we took leave of our Mother in Schoenstatt. These days remain unforgettable. We again felt what it means to still have a home! That word homeless is so hard to face. But we now want to go through life bravely, because we are protected by the Mother of God.” “The last hours of 1947 are passing. With great gratitude and happiness I look back over it. How many treasures of grace our loving Father in heaven has given me this year! The richest of all, however, is Schoenstatt, the shrine of our Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen. We will probably only recognize it fully in eternity. … I have become a completely different person since I have begun to live und the protection and banner of our Mother.”
At the time „Schoenstatt’s apostolate for refugees“, the community of prayer and sacrifice for our brothers and sisters from their home in the East, came into being. It originated from the wish to keep the profound experiences at the place of grace alive, and to make it accessible to as many as possible. Anyone could belong to the community who promised to place their everyday life with strong and sacrificial love into the hands of our Mother Thrice Admirable in the spirit of the capital of grace, so that it could become fruitful for the religious and moral renewal of the world. In order to have a uniting bond, we agreed to pray the Angelus at midday for one another, and at the end to remember the blessing our chaplains to refugees give at various places. This is a sign of thinking of one another and being united, which can mean a great deal. In the morning and evening a similar thought must keep the awareness of belonging to a community alive. The inspirations to do this were summarized in a circular letter that all who took part in the course could take with them.
The echo awakened by this first letter in the meantime many thousands of copies have been distributed was extremely heartening, especially because it proved that Schoenstatt is really an answer from God to the many “whys?” such a disaster can give rise to in the hearts of even the best people. Some more extracts from letters will illustrate this: “I am unable to describe in words the happiness I feel because our dear compatriots have again been able to meet (through the community of prayer and sacrifice for the homeless), and have been able to give their sacrifices and prayers to our Mother, so that in this way they can co-operate in forming the world into Christ through our dear Mater Ter Admirabilis.” “I am gladly prepared to join in the prayers of this community. It creates the connection between our brothers and sisters, and so helps us not to forget the beautiful community of our homeland.” “Now, whenever it is midday, I know that someone is blessing me and all the other refugees. … Spiritually we are a closed circuit, united through God in prayer; and our beloved Mother of God knows all our everyday cares and needs.” “What a joy and consolation the contents of the July letter brought me! Now at midday and in the evening I join with so many children of Mary to await the priestly blessing with great longing.”
From many answers you can tangibly feel the work of the threefold graces we pray for in the shrine. The Blessed Mother gives us a spiritual home. In one of the letters we read, “Now we can feel at home in this chosen place.” But she also brings about spiritual transformation. “The covenant of love with the Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt gives me new strength each day, and a new content to my life.” Often the letters speak of the meaning of being called to suffer, and of the responsibility that results from it. The Blessed Mother gives the awareness of having a personal mission and of spiritual fruitfulness.
In July 1947 the decision was taken to celebrate the 18th of every month as a day on which we renew the covenant of love. It is to be our “Covenant Day” when we make a “spiritual pilgrimage” to the Schoenstatt shrine. This gives it a clear form and has meanwhile been taken up well. After every covenant day letters arrive telling us what happened on it. “Here we have an hour of prayer in the church on the Sunday after every 18th and place ourselves spiritually in our little shrine. At the same time we renew our consecration. It is a joy to see how all join in.” “To my joy we received your letter for 18.10 on Friday. I was able to read it straight away at our meeting. On Saturday we prayed the beautiful prayers to the Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoensatt, which you included in your letter, during the celebration.” “My thoughts were united with those of my sisters and brothers in the shrine of our Mother and Queen. In spirit we kneel before your picture … I am sure many prayed these words and in thought and desire hastened to the chapel of grace to draw, but also to give.” “Since the letter arrived a few days before the 18th, I was able to make this into a little feast-day for myself. Not with a roast no, I gave myself a few hours of quiet during which I tried to enter into and understand the depths of the consecration prayer, which is so rich and comprehensive.” “We are one and belong together, and form a large family. … In spirit we all come to Schoenstatt.”
Through further circular letters, which have until now only been sent off irregularly, we cultivate and enlarge the community. Almost each day we receive applications and reports from which we can gather how much light radiates from the Mater ter admirabilis into the darkness. “I am unable to express all that moved my soul as I read this letter a little bit of home, joy, the strength of faith and courage for sacrifice in the everyday life of a refugee.” “Thank you very much for the letters, which I passed around, but also read word for word. Not just once, no, we take it up again and again. My eyes glide over it in order to draw new things from it, because our daily lives constantly demand new sacrifices.”
Of course, the letters also give us an idea of the misery in which so many people have to live. Through co-operating with „Schoenstatt's Caritas Apostolate“ it has been possible until now to offer material assistance in a fairly large number of instances, especially since benefactors from the Schoenstatt Family intervene when there is special need and mediate help.
For thousands of people the covenant of love is a valuable source of strength and light. Through courses and recollection days in Schoenstatt and at many other places if the opportunity offers itself people are repeatedly introduced to the world of love, and we can experience tangibly that the Blessed Mother co-operates. The simple picture of the Mother and Queen of Schoenstatt adorns many refugee rooms, and repeatedly calls out into their everyday lives filled with suffering and cares: “I love those who love me.”
We often read of the gratitude that fills the souls who have found shelter in the heart of our Mother in the suffering of our times. “I can never thank you enough, Mother …. These words whizzes round in my head, and I can’t get rid of it.” “Sotoday all of us were fervently united with our Mother to adore God’s love. What does it matter if our way is hard? If Love has become Man, and if we are taken into this love, is it possible to do anything else than thank?”
Must we not help zealously so that our homeless brothers and sisters find a home in our Mother’s love? Don’t we at least want to pray and sacrifice so that what is written in one letter may increasingly be realized in them: “Even though we are still scattered, our common prayers and sacrifices link us to one another. The Blessed Mother of Schoenstatt stretches out her hand in blessing over us and is our advocate.”