Immediately following his election to the papacy, Pope Francis said that his first visit would be to pray before the Virgin Mary.
March 13, 2013
"Tomorrow I want to go to pray before Our Lady so that she may protect all of Rome.”
Since then, Francis has shown his devotion to the Blessed Mother in this same site, in front of the 'Salus Populi Romani' icon, which means 'the salvation of the Roman people.'
In May, he returned to the shrine to pray the Rosary. He has also entrusted all of his visits to the patroness of Rome. He visited Saint Mary Major before traveling to Brazil for World Youth Day. Upon his return, he stopped at the basilica on his way back to the Vatican, leaving a soccer ball and shirt on the altar, souvenirs from Rio de Janeiro. He repeated the same gesture before and after his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
He made other solemn visits during the procession of Corpus Christi, where he blessed the faithful in the church square.
According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius in his dreams. She told him that she would indicate the area in Rome in which she wanted a basilica built. On a hot summer day, on August 5th 358, the Esquiline area of Rome was covered in snow. Liberius ordered the construction of a basilica in that same area and since then, many Popes have visited the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
Following tradition and his own personal devotion, Francis has venerated the patroness of Rome on numerous occasions showing that the Blessed Mother is a crucial part of his papacy.