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The Pope and the Holy Virgin: ten things worth knowing

Marian devotion accompanies Francis’ pontificate since his papal election. Ten images picture its intensity and depth ahead of the Pope’s fifth act of veneration of the statue of the Immaculate Virgin at the Spanish Steps

foto SIR/Marco Calvarese

In a few days Pope Francis will perform his fifth act of veneration of the statue of the Immaculate Virgin at the Spanish Steps in Rome. His Marian devotion has profound roots: we shall hereby retrace them in ten steps.

Mary Immaculate.

“We are in need of your immaculate hands, to caress with tenderness, to touch the flesh of Jesus, on our poor, sick, or despised brethren, to raise up those who have fallen and support those who waver.” It’s a selection of the prayer recited a year ago, on December 8, on the Spanish Steps. The Pope added his personal style to the homage to the Immaculate Virgin – an event that is very close to the hearts of Rome’s inhabitants – visiting the Basilica of Saint Mary Major and the icon of Salus populi romani, venerated by Francis before leaving for his apostolic visits, and, whenever possible, upon his return. He gathered in prayer before the image depicting the Holy Virgin attributed to Saint Luke, on March 4 2013, the day after his election to the Papal See.

Our Lady of Lujan.

Grandma Rosa – a figure that is solidly present in the anecdotes of his personal life, whom the Pope often described as an example to the faithful – introduced Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the love for the Holy Virgin during his childhood. In his years of service as priest and bishop Francis always celebrated the rites linked to Marian feast days. On May 8 of all the years as cardinal and archbishop Francis always presided over the celebrations of Our Lady of Lujan, the most venerated icon of the Virgin in Argentina. His coat of arms as bishop, cardinal and Pope, features a star for Mary, mother of Christ and of the Church, on the lower left corner.

Mary undoer of knots.

Although Francis is deeply devoted to the South American icons of the Holy Virgin, it was in the German city of Augusta that Bergoglio discovered the image that was to characterize his Marian devotion: Mary undoer of knots. In 1986 he saw an ex-voto painting, to give thanks for the recovery of a marriage in crisis, depicting Mary crushing the head of a snake while untying the knots – symbol of conjugal union – sustained by two angels. He thus decided to make this image known in Argentina: in 1996 he crowned a reproduction of it in the church of San José del Talar in Buenos Aires.

Our Lady of Aparecida.

In July 2013, on the occasion of his first international journey, in the meeting with the Bishops of Brazil  the story of Aparecida became a key for interpreting the Church’s mission. For the Pope, the lesson of the three fishermen who encounter the statue of the Immaculate Conception, is that “the Church’s nets are weak, perhaps patched; the Church’s barque is not as powerful as the great transatlantic liners which cross the ocean. And yet God wants to be seen precisely through our resources, scanty resources”, such as those of simple people.

Our Lady of Lourdes.

To the faithful gathered in the Vatican gardens to pray the rosary, at the end of the month of May, Pope Francis suggested to address the Holy Virgin with a new title. On May 30 2014, gathered in prayer before the votive aedicule that reproduces the site of the apparition of the Virgin in Lourdes, Francis said she is the “Virgin of Readiness.” It is a reference to when Mary “went in haste” to visit her cousin Elisabeth: “she lost no time, she went immediately out to serve.”

Our Lady of the Rosary.

Not long ago, in a tweet, Francis wrote: “The Rosary is the prayer that always accompanies my life; it is also the prayer of the simple and of the saints, it is the prayer of my heart.” For the Pope the Rosary is also “an encapsulation of Divine mercy”, as he explained at the end of the Jubilee Year. The Pope gives a rosary to all the people he meets, in public and private audiences. He often invites young people to join in the prayer of the Rosary. The “Misericordina-Plus”, handed out in Saint Peter’s Square in November 2013, were small boxes containing a rosary ring, a medicine that is good for the heart.

Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“My most intimate desire is to pray before the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe”, Francis said on flight from Rome to Havana, on the occasion of his journey to Cuba and Mexico. After having entered the Shrine devoted to the Holy Virgin, the Pope gathered in prayer in front of the icon for twenty minutes, alone, before celebrating the Holy Mass.

Our Lady of tears.

May 5 2016 was the Prayer Vigil to Dry the Tears, an absolute novelty in the Jubilee Calendar. On that occasion the reliquary of Our Lady of Tears of Syracuse were on display inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Mary, “with her mantle, she wipes away our tears” – the Pope said – “and she accompanies us along the path of hope.”

Our Lady of Fatima.

Approximately ten minutes, standing in silence in front of the statue of the “Lady.” It’s one of the most moving snapshots of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Fatima, to proclaim saints the first non-martyr children in the history of the Church. The devotion to Our Lady of Fatima dates back to the beginning of Francis’ Petrine Ministry: at the end of the Holy Mass for the Marian Day, October 13 2013, the Pope entrusted his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima.

Mother of hope.

A recurring image in Francis’ pontificate, expressed by highlighting her tenderness, is that of Mary “Mother of hope” as he referred to Her in the general audience of May 10.   Hers is “the instinct as mother who simply suffers, each time there is a child who undergoes suffering.” “We are not orphans: we have a Mother in heaven” who “teaches us the virtue of waiting, even when everything seems to lack meaning.”

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