Pope Francis’ first non-official act outside of Vatican City this morning was delivering a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin.
<p>He placed it at the feet of the image of Santa Maria Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People), also known as the Virgin of Snows. Pope Francis knelt for 10 minutes and concluded with the singing of the Salve Regina together with those who accompanied him.
The visit took place in Saint Mary Major, one of the four papal basilicas located in Rome. It was a simple bouquet, with a blue orchid in the middle and several flowers of various kinds.
The newly elected Pontiff entered via the sacristy at around 8:00 am, crossed the central nave from the back of the church to the front. The church was empty, as the doors had not yet been opened to the public.
After praying in the Pauline or Borghese Chapel, he went to the opposite Chapel, still closed to the public for restoration. He paused a few moments to pray there before the tomb of Pope Saint Pius V, the Pope of the battle of Lepanto. On leaving he greeted those working in this church, men and women religious , security staff and others. “I’m Mexican,” a nun said to him. “And Guadalupan also, no?” Pope Francis responded.
“I also greeted him,” another Mexican nun pointed out to ZENIT. “And then I said to him: I am Mexican and Guadalupan, and the Pope smiled. I don’t recall exactly what he said to me because I was very moved,” she said.
According to tradition, the icon or painting of the Virgin Salus Populi Romani “was painted by the Apostle Saint Luke,” although art scholars date it to the 7th century, and make references to the processions at that time with the icon of the Virgin, although it was probably repainted in the 12th century. She was crowned by Pius XII in 1954, and Benedict XVI paid homage to her on several occasions.
The well-known Marian icon of the World Youth Days is a copy of the Salus Populi Romani icon, and, in keeping with John Paul II’s wish, accompanies university students worldwide on pilgrimage with the invocation Sedes Sapientiae.
This afternoon, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in the Sistine Chapel along with the Cardinal electors.
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To see Vatican Radio’s photos of the Holy Father’s visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, go to: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.443042942436698.1073741831.237835746290753&type=1