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Rome Reports

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Places in Rome: Where the pope prays before every trip

Before and after Pope Francis heads out on an international trip, he visits St. Mary Major, in Rome, to pray before an image of Our Lady. 

The icon is known as the 'Salus Populi Romani,' and Pope Francis has a very strong devotion to it. 

Canon of St. Mary Major
“He goes, offers her flowers and prays in silence. He is accompanied solely by the cardinal archpriest of the Basilica and no one else.”
“He needs to let himself be looked at by the Blessed Mother. At St. Mary Major, he has already given three very important and concrete homilies. He always makes three notable points: 'Mary looks at you, let yourself be seen; let yourself be embraced; and let yourself be guided by her hand.'”

This tradition of prayer before her is a personal devotion of Pope Francis. The day after being elected pope, he visited her and brought her flowers. 

St. Mary Major is one of the four major basilicas in Rome. It was built in the fifth century, after the Council of Ephesus recognized Mary as the Mother of God. 

Its original name was “St. Mary of the Snows.” Tradition has it that one summer, the Blessed Mother appeared to Pope Liberius in a dream and told him to build a church on the place where it snowed. That August, a spectacular snowfall took place solely on Esquiline Hill, indicating where Our Lady wanted the church to be built. 

In fact, every year on August 5, these events are remembered.

Some say the icon of the Virgin was painted in Palestine by St. Luke, and the table where he painted the icon was the same table where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. This tradition is a metaphor to highlight the way St. Luke wrote the Gospel. 

Canon of Santa María la Mayor
“He painted the scenes so well, above all the scene of the Annunciation, that he was thought to have been a painter, even though he was a doctor.”
“Because of his portrayal of the Our Lady, which was done so well, this tradition continues, while there is no real proof.”

After returning from Romania, the pope went to pray to St. Mary Major. This visit marked 76 completed visits to Mary's chapel. The pope has visited this site more than any other place in Rome. It is proof of the special devotion the pope has for her.