As Pope Francis approaches his 87th birthday on Sunday, December 17, an interesting bit of news broke this week regarding his planned place of burial — he told a Spanish reporter in an interview that he plans to be buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
Vatican News reports:
The choice marks a historical novelty, especially with respect to the Popes of the recent past, all of whom were buried in the Vatican Grottoes (the last being Benedict XVI, who died on 31 December 2022). However, the decision to be buried in St Mary Major reinforces the bond with the Liberian Basilica, which the Pope has visited more than 100 times: beginning the day after his election, 14 March 2013; then before and after every international trip; and finally, last week, 8 December, when he went to pay homage with a “Golden Rose” offered to the Salus Populi Romani, the Marian icon that tradition says was painted by St Luke and that watches over the inhabitants of the City of Rome.
“It is my great devotion. My great devotion. And before, when I used to come [to Rome, before his election, -ed.], I would always go there on Sunday mornings when I was in Rome, I would stay there for a while. There is a very great bond,” says Pope Francis. He explained that he prepared the rites of the Pope’s funeral with the papal master of ceremonies. “We simplified them a lot,” he said. The most recent papal funeral was that of Benedict XVI on 5 January in St Peter’s Square.
Back in August, Emmett O’Regan wrote about this important Roman basilica in relation to Pope Francis’s devotion and the reported miraculous healing of a young woman named Jimena during World Youth Day:
Jimena has attributed this healing to Our Lady of the Snows, whose feast day is commemorated on the day she had her sight restored. According to Aleteia, she said that this grace was received after she had just completed a Novena in honor of Our Lady of the Snows. It is interesting that this particular event has been invoked in this instance, because Pope Francis has promoted this Marian devotion since the very beginning of his pontificate.
“Our Lady of the Snows” refers to a miraculous event that is closely tied to the foundation of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore) in Rome. Pope Francis famously visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the day after his election as Roman Pontiff, after telling the crowds during his appearance on the loggia, “Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna so that she protects all of Rome.” Since then, prior to each of his international pilgrimages, Pope Francis pays a visit to the basilica to ask for the special protection of the Blessed Virgin, and he goes back to the same basilica to give thanks each time he returns from a journey. In all, the pope has made over 100 visits to St. Mary Major to offer prayers to Our Lady.
Pope Francis’s deep devotion to Our Lady is well-known. He has regularly called upon the faithful to grow in our prayerful devotion to the Blessed Mother, especially in the form of praying the Rosary, but also in the original prayers to Mary he includes in his major papal documents. On last week’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Francis offered the following prayer at the Spanish Steps in Rome:
We come to you with hearts divided between hope and anguish.
We need you, our Mother!
But above all, we want to thank you,
because in silence, which is your style, you watch over this city
that today covers you with flowers to express their love.
In silence, day and night, you watch over us:
over its families, with their joys and worries – you know them well;
over its study and work places; over its institutions and public offices;
over its hospitals and nursing homes; over its prisons; over those who live on the streets;
over its parishes and all the communities of the Church of Rome.
Thank you for your discreet and constant presence
that gives us comfort and hope.
We need you, Mother,
because you are the Immaculate Conception.
Your person, the fact itself that you exist,
reminds us that evil has neither the first nor the last word;
that our destiny is not death but life,
not hatred but fraternity, not conflict but harmony,
not war but peace.
Looking at you, we feel confirmed in this faith
that is tested dearly by events.
And you, Mother, turn your eyes of mercy
on all the people oppressed by injustice and poverty,
tried by war; look on the battered Ukrainian people,
the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,
plunged in a spiral of violence.
Today, holy Mother, we bring here, under your gaze,
many mothers who, as happened to you, are filled with sorrow.
The mothers who weep for their children killed by war and terrorism.
The mothers who watch them depart on journeys of desperate hope.
And also the mothers who try to free them from the bonds of addiction,
and those who watch over them through long and difficult illnesses.
Today, Mary, as a woman, we need you
to entrust to you every woman who have suffered violence,
and those are still victims of violence,
in this city, in Italy and in every part of the world.
You know them one by one; you know their faces.
We beg you to dry their tears and those of their dear ones.
And help us to embark on a path of education and purification,
recognizing and countering the violence that lurks
in our hearts and in our minds,
asking God to deliver us from it.
Show us once again, O Mother, the path of conversion,
for there is no peace without pardon,
and there is no pardon without repentance.
The world changes if hearts change;
and everyone must say: beginning with mine.
But only God can change the human heart
with his grace, the grace in which you, Mary,
were immersed from the first instant.
The grace of Jesus Christ, Our Lord,
whom you generated in your flesh,
who died and rose for us, and to whom you always direct us.
He is salvation for every person, and for the world.
Come, Lord Jesus!
May your kingdom of love, justice and peace come!
I’ll conclude this brief post with a short passage from Pope Francis’s Angelus address, which was a reflection on Mary’s holiness, from December 8:
It is precisely with her daily fidelity in goodness that Our Lady allowed God’s gift to grow within her. This is how she trained herself to respond to the Lord, to say “yes” to him with her entire life.
So, let us ask ourselves: Do I believe that fidelity to God is important both in everyday situations as well as in my spiritual journey? And if I believe this, do I find the time to read the Gospel, to pray, to participate in the Eucharist and to receive Sacramental forgiveness, to perform some tangible act of disinterested service? These are the small everyday choices, choices necessary to welcome the Lord’s presence.
Please say a special prayer to Our Lady for Pope Francis on his birthday this weekend.
Image: Vatican News.