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I thank the most eminent lord archpriest of this basilica for the words he spoke at the beginning. I thank you, brother and friend – a friendship that began in those countries at the end of the world! Thank you so much. I am grateful for the presence of the lord cardinal vicar, the other lord cardinals, the bishops, the priests. And I thank you, brothers and sisters, who have come today to pray to Our Lady, the mother, the “Salus Populi Romani” (Salvation/Health of the Roman People). Because tonight we are here before Mary. We have prayed under her maternal guidance that she might direct us to be ever more united with her Son Jesus; we have brought her our joys and our sufferings, our hopes and our problems; we have invoked her with the title “Salus Populi Romani,” asking for all of us, for Rome, for the world that she might give us health. Mary gives us health, she is our health.
Jesus Christ, with his passion, death, and resurrection, brings us salvation, gives us the grace and joy to be sons of God, truly to call him with the name “Father.” Mary is mother, and a mother concerns herself above all with the health of her children, she knows how to care for it with great and tender love. Our Lady protects our health. What does it mean to say that the Our Lady protects our health? I think above all of 3 aspects: she helps us to grow, face life, to be free.
A mother helps her children to grow and wants them to grow well; for this she educates them not to fall into laziness – which derives from a certain well-being – not to settle into a comfortable life that contents itself only with having things. The mother cares for the children so that they grow more, they grow strong, able to take responsibility, to commit themselves in life, to pursue grand ideals. In the Gospel St. Luke tells us that, in the family of Nazareth, Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Our Lady does the same thing in us, she helps us to grow as human beings and in the faith, to be strong and not to give in to the temptation to be human and Christian in a superficial way, but to live with responsibility, to aim ever higher.
A mother also thinks of her children’s health when she educates them to face the problem of life. She does not educate them, she does not care for their health by allowing them to avoid problems, as life were a highway without obstacles. The mother helps her children to look upon life’s problems with realism and to not get lost in them, but to face them with courage, not to be weak, and to know how to overcome them with a sane balance that a mother “senses” between areas of safety and those of risk. And a mother knows how to do this! She does not always let her child take the easy, safe way because in this way the child cannot grow, but neither does she leave the child on the road of risk since it is dangerous. A mother knows how to balance things. A life without challenges does not exist, and a boy or girl who does not know how to deal with them is a boy or girl without a spine! Let us recall the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus does not recommend the conduct of the priest or the Levite, who avoid helping the man who ran into robbers. He points to the Samaritan, who saw the man’s situation and deals with it in a concrete way and takes risks. Mary experienced many difficult moments in her life, from the birth of Jesus when there was “no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7), to Calvary (cf. 19:25). And like a good mother she is close to us so that we never lose courage in facing the adversity of life, in facing our weakness, our sins: she gives us strength, she indicates the path of her Son. From the cross Jesus says to Mary, referring to John: “Woman behold your son!” (Cf. John 19:26-27). That disciple represents all of us: the Lord entrusts us to the Mother’s hands, full of love and tenderness, so that we feel her support in dealing with and overcoming the problems along our human and Christian journey. Do not be afraid of difficulties, face them with the help of the mother.
A final aspect: a good mother does not only accompany her children as they grow, not avoiding the problems, the challenges of life; a good mother also helps us to make definitive decisions freely. This is not easy but a mother knows how to do it. But what is freedom? It is certainly not doing whatever you want, letting yourself be dominated by your passions, passing from one experience to the next without discernment, following the fashions of the time; freedom does not mean, so to speak, throwing everything you do not like out the window. No, that is not freedom! Freedom is given to us so that we know how to make good choices in life! Mary, like a good mother, teaches us to be, like her, capable of making definitive decisions, definitive decisions in this moment in which their reigns, so to say, the philosophy of the provisional. It is so difficult to commit oneself definitively in life. And she helps us to make definitive decisions with that complete freedom with which she answered “yes” to God’s plan for her life (cf. Luke 1:38).
Dear brothers and sisters, how hard it is in our time to make definitive decisions. The provisional seduces us. We are the victims of a tendency that drives us toward the temporary… as if we wished to remain adolescents. It is rather fashionable now to remain an adolescent, and to stay this way all one’s life! Let us not be afraid of definitive commitments, of commitments that involve and interest our whole life! In this way life will be fruitful! And this is freedom: to have the courage to make these decisions with greatness.
Mary’s entire existence is a hymn to life, a hymn of love to life: she gave birth to Jesus in the flesh and was there at the birth of the Church on Calvary and in the upper room. The “Salus Populi Romani” is the mother who gives us health as we grow, she gives us the health to face and overcome problems, she gives us the health that makes us free for definitive decisions; the mother who teaches us to be fruitful, to be open to life and always to be fruitful in the good, fruitful in joy, fruitful in hope, never to lose hope, to give life to others, physical and spiritual life.
This we ask of you this evening, O Mary, “Salus Populi Romani,” for the people of Rome, for all of us: grant us the health that alone can give us, to be always signs and instruments of life. Amen.[After leaving the basilica the Holy Father addressed these words to the many faithful gathered in the piazza:]
Brothers and sisters,
Good evening! Thank you for your presence in the house of the mother of Rome, our Mother. Hurrah (viva) the “Salus Populi Romani.” Hurrah for Our Lady. She is our Mother. Let us entrust ourselves to her because she protects us like a good mother. I will pray for you, but I ask you to pray for me, because I need it. Three “Ave’s” for me. I wish you a good Sunday tomorrow. Goodbye. Now I will give you the blessing – to you and to all your families. May the almighty Father bless you. Have a good Sunday.[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]