ROME, MAY 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The image of Our Lady Mother of the Church, which looks over St. Peter’s Square from the facade of the Apostolic Palace is a tribute Pope John Paul II wanted to make to Mary for saving him from assassination on May 13, 1981.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, retired prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, told L’Osservatore Romano about the history of the mosaic. The 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt was marked this month.
The image is more than 2.5 meters (8 feet) tall and it was installed in 1981, just some months after the attempt on the Pope’s life. Under the image is Our Lady’s title “Mater Ecclesiae,” and at the base of the depiction is the Holy Father’s coat of arms and motto, “Totus Tuus.”
Cardinal Re explained how there was talk of putting a plaque in St. Peter’s Square to mark the spot where John Paul II was shot — and saved by Our Lady.
The Holy Father asked that the remembrance of the attack be an image of the Virgin in a very visible spot in the Square.
John Paul II “was personally convinced that on May 13, the Virgin Mary was present in St. Peter’s Square to save the Pope’s life,” the cardinal explained.
Then-Bishop Re was asked to work on the project. He said that Bishop Giovanni Fallani, the president of what was the Pontifical Commission for Preserving the Patrimony of Art and History, offered a solution: to place a mosaic in an existing window, a proposal that all thought viable, given “an architectural complex than many considered untouchable.”
“The plan pleased the Pope, who asked us to go ahead,” continued the cardinal. “John Paul II made it known that he would very much like a representation of the Virgin as Mother of the Church” because the Virgin “has always been united to the Church” and has been “especially close in difficult moments of her history.”
An image from St. Peter’s Basilica of the Virgin with the Christ Child, titled Mater Ecclesiae, was chosen as a model.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1981, John Paul II blessed the mosaic, a “sign of the heavenly protection of the Sovereign Pontiff, of the Church and of those who are in St. Peter’s Square.”
“Afterward,” Cardinal Re noted, “on the pavement of the Square, a marble plaque with the Pope’s coat of arms ” was placed in the “exact spot” where he was shot.