On Saturday, Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome to invoke the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary on World Youth Day which begins today in Rio de Janeiro. The Holy Father arrived for the impromptu visit in the afternoon and was welcomed by the Archpriest of the Basilica, Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló.
The Papal Basilica, the largest Marian shrine in Rome, is a place of special significance for the Holy Father. The day after his election to the Papacy, Pope Francis went to pray at the Basilica to consecrate his ministry to the Blessed Mother.
Upon his arrival, the Holy Father entered the chapel where the canons of the Basilica as well as the community of Dominican priest of the shrine were gathered in prayer. The chapel houses the famed icon of Mary entitled “Salus Populi Romani” (Protectress of the Roman People), which according to legend was painted by St. Luke.
According to a communique sent by the Holy See, Pope Francis “remained for over 30 minutes in silent prayer before the Marian icon.” The Holy Father also “offered a bouquet of flowers to the icon and a lit candle that bore the logo of the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
Many visitors, pilgrims and faithful were present at the Basilica since the unannounced visit was made during the hours when the Basilica is opened to the public. After listening to a brief address by Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, the Holy Father addressed a few words to the faithful.
Pope Francis asked them “to accompany him with prayers, trust and penance during his trip to Brazil and his meeting with the young people from the entire world.”