As the annual celebrations of the legacy of St. Cyril and Methodius approach many believers are undertaking a religious pilgrimage to the historic town of Velehrad, where the missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius arrived in 863 to preach the Gospel in the Slavonic language. One of these walking pilgrimages is on its way now, having set off from the town of St Hostýn on Monday.
July 5th is a public holiday in the Czech Republic marking the legacy of the two missionary brothers from Thessaloniki who influenced the cultural development of all Slavs by spreading the gospel in a language that the people could understand and bringing them literacy with the Cyrillic alphabet. The anniversary of their arrival to Velehrad is annually marked by a special mass celebrated out in the open for thousands of believers and broadcast live nationwide.
Traditionally some believers now make the annual pilgrimage to Velehrad on foot – setting out several days in advance from other pilgrimage spots in the country. One such place is St. Hostyn with its famous Marian basilica where around 200 pilgrims heard mass on Monday before setting out on the three day journey to Velehrad. It is the only day of the year when the basilica fills with believers dressed informally in sports clothes and surrounded by backpacks with food and drink to sustain them on the near-60-kilometre journey. At the end of the mass the priest blesses the cross carried at the head of the procession. The journey has 25 stops – for rest and prayer - and the pace is slow so that all participants can keep up.
“This is a sacrifice for my daughter who is seriously ill. I am hoping that she will be cured and that this pilgrimage will bring health to my grandchildren and my whole family.”
Believers use the three days on the road to clear their heads of daily concerns, meditate and reinforce their reserves of inner strength. The various pilgrimage processions from different parts of Moravia generally arrive at Velehrad on Wednesday giving participants time to rest and prepare for the religious celebrations on the following day. In addition to the traditional mass which will be served by Cardinal Dominik Duka there is the annual People of Goodwill concert the proceeds of which go to charity.
Meanwhile plans are afoot to establish a European religious cultural heritage tour celebrating the legacy of Cyril and Methodius. Religious tourism has been gaining popularity of late and officials in Zlin say they would like to win broad support for a tourist project tracing the movements of the missionary brothers on the continent as they established a spiritual and cultural link between the east and west. Councillor Jindřich Ondruš explains:
“We do not envision it as a pilgrimage tour on a map that people would undertake but rather a loosely connected network of cultural and religious heritage sites where the brothers or their disciples were active. They set out from Greece, travelled through the Balkan countries, came to Velehrad and then moved on to Rome where Cyril died. Their disciples were scattered throughout central and eastern Europe.“
Officials in Zlín are floating the idea of a European cultural heritage tour in 20 countries, including Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. Initial reactions show that the concept has been well received and has won support both from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.