VATICAN CITY, OCT. 31, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI quietly went on pilgrimage Saturday to the Marian shrine of the “Mother of Graces” of Mentorella, one of Italy’s oldest, about 30 miles east of Rome.
News of the Pope’s excursion appeared in a communiqué from Joaquín Navarro Valls, director of the Vatican press office.
The spokesman explained that the Holy Father left the Vatican around 9 a.m., “celebrated holy Mass in honor of the Virgin,” and returned in the early afternoon.
A few pilgrims who were at the shrine were the only witnesses of the Pope’s visit. He gave them a rosary as a memento.
According to tradition, the Mentorella shrine was built in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine, on Mount Guadagnolo, site of the conversion of the Roman tribune, St. Eustace. The church, dedicated to St. Eustace, was consecrated by Pope Sylvester.
The shrine is served and administered by the Congregation of the Resurrection that, in 1883, purchased it from the Italian state after it had been expropriated. In 1857 Pope Pius IX entrusted this pilgrimage center to that congregation.
On Saturday morning, the shrine’s Polish rector, Father Adam Otrebski, received a telephone call announcing Benedict XVI’s visit. As a memento of his visit, the Pope gave the shrine’s community a chasuble.
The wooden statue of the “Mother of Graces” dates back to the 12th century. It was crowned in 1901.
In 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla visited the shrine on the eve of the conclave in which he would be elected Pope. As John Paul II he visited the shrine on many occasions, the last in 2000.
On his first visit, the Polish Pope said: “This place has helped me a lot to pray. … This place, hidden in the mountains, has particularly fascinated me.”