We have been looking at Marian apparitions for the past few issues as a means of focus during this year of faith. Since the last issue of The Sower we have seen the historic retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis. Since Pope Paul VI we have seen our Popes eager to visit shrines and places of pilgrimage. Twelve hours after his election, Pope Francis went on pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. It is the oldest church dedicated to Our Lady in Rome built shortly after the Council of Ephesus (431). He prayed before the image of Mary, Salus Populi Romani [Protectress of the Roman People]. Afterwards, he greeted the people outside.
Dear brothers and sisters, good evening! Thank you very much for your presence in the house of the Mother of Rome, of our Mother. Long live the Salus Populi Romani [Protectress of the Roman People]. Long live Our Lady. She is our Mother. Let us entrust ourselves to her, because she cares for us like a buona mamma [good mom]. I pray for you, but I ask you to pray for me, because I need it. Three Hail Mary’s for me.
Why was this pilgrimage so important to the man from Argentina who had just been elected pope? He obviously understood the power of pilgrimage in our Catholic life. Instead of focusing on any specific apparition, I want to look at pilgrimages to shrines, which would be appropriate after looking at various apparitions. Shrines have been built on the sites of those apparitions and thousands and thousand of the faithful, including myself, have gone on pilgrimage to pray and praise God for his love for us.