As we begin the month of May, traditionally dedicated to the devotion of Mary, we remember our Holy Father’s beautiful bestowal of the plenary indulgence when he brought to St. Peter’s Basilica two items of devotion on March 27, 2020, for his Urbi et Orbi (from the City to the World) blessing and holy hour. First was the Miraculous Crucifix, which usually hangs above the Tabernacle in the Church of San Marcello al Corso, and was used in the 16th century in 1522 to cure many people during a plague that struck Rome.
Our Holy Father also brought to us an image of Our Lady called Salus Populi Romani, or the Health of the Roman People. The history of this icon of Mary is an interesting one. It first came to Rome from Crete around the year 590 and was accepted by Pope Gregory the Great. Remember, this was a time of great upheaval in the Roman Empire. Gregory became not only the Pope, but also the governor of the province, since the Barbarian invasions were decimating the people. On May 23, 1519, the icon was the only religious image to survive untouched by a fire that completely gutted the basilica. It is this image of Mary that became an object of devotion and prayer that saved many people in that 16th century. It is kept in a chapel of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
Although the Roman people know it well, you will come upon this image in every corner of Rome, usually with a lighted candle in front of the icon. Pope Francis brought this beautiful image of Mary to the attention of the world on Good Friday. For us, this image of Mary could be a touchstone of the recitation of the Rosary during this month of May. In fact, our Holy Father has authored a prayer to Our Lady mentioning Salus Populi Romani, which is printed within this column as well as the image of which we are speaking.
How do we call upon Mary for help, especially during the time of this pandemic?
Mary is always called upon as help of the sick. Surely, we know that the intercession of Mary is that of a mother for her children. There is no mother who wishes to see her child sick. A mother will do anything to cure her child, spending much time taking care of her sick child.
This is the type of faith that we have in Mary’s intercession for us. We must call upon her, however, we must ask her to do for us what she has done for so many people throughout the centuries.
But, how could we not understand the curative intercession of Mary as she appeared in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, which today has become a center of Marian Devotion, especially asking Mary’s power of intercession for the sick? During this pandemic, we remember the promise of Mary that those who honor her would have her special protection.
When we honor Mary, we are brought closer to Jesus Christ because all of our Marian Devotion is meant to enable us to understand who is Jesus, her son.
The Gospel passage of the Marriage Feast at Cana gives us a perfect understanding of the relationship between our devotion to Mary and union with Jesus Christ. At the wedding feast, the wine ran out and the married couple was facing embarrassment.
It was Mary who noticed their plight and interceded with Jesus, her Son, that something be done. It seemed that Jesus was not interested, however, when Mary instructed the servants, “do whatever He tells you,” the servants filled the water jugs, and the water became wine.
The power of obedience to God’s will is all-powerful. Our present acceptance of God’s will, although understood, at this
time of pandemic will provide us with all the miracles we will need.
In this month of May, as we recite the Rosary, we put out into the deep understanding of God’s will for us. Recite the prayer composed by the Holy Father at the end of the Rosary, and may Mary, who helped the Roman people, be our own help during this time.
From the Holy Father — prayer to say at the end of the Rosary:
“We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God.”
In the present tragic situation, when the whole world is prey to suffering and anxiety, we fly to you, Mother of God and our Mother, and seek refuge under your protection.
Virgin Mary, turn your merciful eyes towards us amid this coronavirus pandemic. Comfort those who are distraught and mourn their loved ones who have died, and at times are buried in a way that grieves them deeply. Be close to those who are concerned for their loved ones who are sick and who, in order to prevent the spread of the disease, cannot be close to them.
Fill with hope those who are troubled by the uncertainty of the future and the consequences for the economy and employment.
Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us to God, the Father of mercies, that this great suffering may end and that hope and peace may dawn anew. Plead with your divine Son, as you did at Cana, so that the families of the sick and the victims be comforted, and their hearts be opened to confidence and trust.
Protect those doctors, nurses, health workers and volunteers who are on the frontline of this emergency, and are risking their lives to save others. Support their heroic effort and grant them strength, generosity and continued health.
Be close to those who assist the sick night and day, and to priests who, in their pastoral concern and fidelity to the Gospel, are trying to help and support everyone.
Blessed Virgin, illumine the minds of men and women engaged in scientific research, that they may find effective solutions to overcome this virus.
Support national leaders, that with wisdom, solicitude and generosity they may come to the aid of those lacking the basic necessities of life and may devise social and economic solutions inspired by farsightedness and solidarity.
Mary Most Holy, stir our consciences, so that the enormous funds invested in developing and stockpiling arms will instead be spent on promoting effective research on how to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
Beloved Mother, help us realize that we are all members of one great family and to recognize the bond that unites us, so that, in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity, we can help to alleviate countless situations of poverty and need. Make us strong in faith, persevering in service, constant in prayer.
Mary, Consolation of the afflicted, embrace all your children in distress and pray that God will stretch out his all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic, so that life can serenely resume its normal course.
To you, who shine on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope, do we entrust ourselves, O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. Amen.