Pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Clement Hofbauer

At the tomb of St Clement in Vienna.

The College Major, in collaboration with the Historical Institute of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, organised a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Clement Maria Hofbauer from 9 to 20 July. The group of 12 students, with Fr. Martin McKeever CSsR, director of the College, and Fr. Adam Owczarski CSsR, director of the Historical Institute and guide during the pilgrimage, travelled through three countries visiting cities connected with the Saint’s life and apostolate.

The pilgrimage is a journey to visit places considered spiritually, culturally, politically and historically significant. Indeed, St Clement, called by some the second founder of the Congregation, is the protagonist of the Redemptorist presence beyond Italy.

This outstanding Redemptorist was born in Tasovice (Tasswitz), Moravia, on 26 December 1751 and died in Vienna on 15 March 1821. After his ordination in 1785, he was sent to Vienna to found a Redemptorist mission. Still, the Austrian Emperor Joseph II’s hostility prevented him from doing so, so Clement and his companion Thaddeus went to Warsaw, where King Stanislaus Poniatowski received them. They were given the care of the church of St. Benon. The church was the centre of deployed missionary activity until the expulsion from Warsaw in 1808. After that, he returned to Vienna, continuing his apostolate amidst severe difficulties, with such extraordinary tenacity and creativity until he died in the Ursuline Sisters’ monastery, where he was chaplain. The funeral Mass was celebrated in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he was an altar boy as a child. There is his bust, a reminder of the man who never tired of proclaiming the Gospel to the people of his time. Clement was beatified in 1888 and canonised in 1909 by Pope Pius X.

Our pilgrimage was a time of deepening our understanding of his life that inspires all of us Redemptorists and apostles to proclaim hope. We have seen how Clement held together fidelity and creativity to develop an apostolic life according to the charism of the Congregation, continuing the work of redemption despite the many difficulties that impeded the growth of the kingdom of God.

Clement’s life moved according to the political history of his time. As pilgrims, we were attentive to the historical and cultural centres that help in the hermeneutics of Clement’s missionary work from Warsaw to Vienna, passing through the Czech Republic, the country of his birth. We also lingered at significant places.

Memorials to the Second World War victims, the historical centre of Warsaw and the royal parks of Lazienki and Wilanow during our stay in Warsaw. On our way to Krakow, we prayed at Poland’s National Shrine of the Black Madonna in Częstochowa. From Krakow, staying at the Pilgrims’ House for a few days, we made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, visited Auschwitz, the birthplace of St John Paul II, Wadowice, the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Before leaving Poland for the Czech Republic, we visited the Redemptorist community in Bardo, in the south towards the border with the Czech Republic. From there, pilgrims arrived at Svata Hora, a Marian shrine run by confreres.

Continuing our pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Clement, we visited Prague. In 1794, St Clement made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St John of Nepomuk in Prague Cathedral after the orphans’ home was saved during the Russian invasion. After Svata Hora, we continued to Vienna. On the way, we stopped in Tasovice, at the house where Clement was born, for a votive Mass before arriving in Vienna. In Vienna, there are important relics of Clement as a scattering badge of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

We thank the brethren of the various communities who gave us a fraternal welcome and shared the rich history of Clement found in churches, monuments, museums and archives. The St Clement Pilgrimage 2023 was a wonderful experience for all participants, who left Vienna with great nostalgia on Thursday, 20 July 2023.