POMPEII, Italy, OCT. 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary in Pompeii, which John Paul II visited today, has been a focus of pilgrimages for more than a century.
It was built next to the famous ancient Roman city buried by a volcano. Pompeii was destroyed on Aug. 24 in A.D. 79 when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the city in molten lava.
The “new Pompeii” would arise only centuries later, the result of a promise made in 1872 by Bartolo Longo, a lawyer and devout layman, to build a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary in Pompeii, the Vatican Information Service explained.
The monumental complex which arose from this promise and today houses the basilica, administrative offices and the charitable works associated with it, eventually led to the birth of a city, the new Pompeii, just a short distance away from the ruins of the ancient city.
Bartolo Longo was born in 1841 near Brindisi, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. An easygoing, intelligent man devoted to the Church, he went through a crisis of faith in his university years, underwent a conversion and then devoted himself to works of charity and religious studies.
When he arrived in Pompeii in 1872 to administer the property of a wealthy widow, the Countess Marianna De Fusco, he was struck by the human and religious poverty of the local peasants. He dedicated himself to teaching the catechism and spreading devotion to the rosary, and he organized yearly festivals in the fall to bring people together for catechesis and to pray the rosary.
This could be best achieved, he thought, if the people had a proper church and, most especially, an image of Our Lady of the Rosary as the focal point. In 1875 Bartolo began searching the stores of Naples, and found and restored a painting, considered to be of dubious beauty and quality, in time for that year’s concluding ceremonies on Nov. 13.
That painting today hangs over the main altar of the basilica and depicts Our Lady with the Child Jesus on her knees, as they hand rosaries to St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena.
The neoclassical pontifical shrine and Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, in all its frescoed, marble splendor, was dedicated in 1891, sixteen years after Longo began to collect pennies from the peasants to build this temple to Mary.
Millions of pilgrims visit this shrine every year and, since its founding, thousands of cures and miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii. Every year on May 8 and on the first Sunday of October, thousands of faithful gather at the shrine for the feast of the Supplication, to petition favors and to offer thanksgiving for favors received.
John Paul II’s visit today, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, is his second to Pompeii. He first visited the shrine on Oct. 21, 1979.
On Oct. 26, 1980, he beatified its founder, Bartolo Longo, who died in 1926. His feast day is Oct. 6. Blessed Bartolo, a Third Order Dominican, founded the Sisters of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii and he also established homes for the poor, for orphans and for the children of people in prison.