We Are All Romans

As is his custom, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, stopped into the Basilica of Saint Mary in Rome both before and after his Apostolic Journey to Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Pontiff goes to the image of Our Lady under the title of Salus Populi Romani (The Health {or Protection} of the Roman People) to offer a prayer of petition and thanksgiving. Handing over all things to the Lord Jesus, under the patronage of His Blessed Mother, is a hallmark of all Catholics, but Francis seems to have a particular devotion to Mary.

This image of the Blessed Mother comes to us, some believe, from the Evangelist Luke, who knew the Virgin Mary during the course of her earthly life. The Catholic tradition holds that the Mother of God was the source of some of the stories, filled with details only a mother could know, that Saint Luke adds throughout his Gospel. The image, a Byzantine style icon, is kept in the Pauline (or the Borghese) Chapel of Saint Mary Major.

What does Mary as the Salus Populi Romani have to do with Catholics in Bangladesh and Myanmar? What does the Blessed Virgin have to do with us here in the U.S. even? It’s actually pretty simple – we, as Catholics, are all Roman people.

We are very different than the people whom the Holy Father visited this week. And yet, as different as we Catholics are, because we are all “Roman” in heart and mind, the greater the similarity. And it is this “Roman heart,” under the guidance of Our Lady, the health of the Roman people, which impels us to help even those who do not share our faith.

Pope Francis, in his now standard in-flight, uncensored press conference, was asked why he did not directly address the persecution of minorities in this country. The Vicar of Christ stated: “I am interested in getting the message across…I did not have the pleasure of slamming the door in their face publicly with a condemnation but I had the satisfaction to dialogue, to speak with the other, to say my piece. This way, the message got across.”

He added: “I did not negotiate with the truth” and “I did it a way that he understood a bit that the path that was gone down in ugly times, renewed today, is not viable… It was a good meeting, civilized, and even there the message got across.”

Under the guidance of She who is the health of the Roman people, may we never fail to address injustice and speak the truth with gentleness, but power.