After presiding over Mass at the Basilica, Pope Francis fulfilled his desire to have a private moment of prayer before the Grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a major Catholic Shrine.
According to Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope found his way into a small room behind the altar, directly behind where the image is usually on display. Just before he started praying, he laid a bouquet of yellow roses in front of the image, with his eyes closed, he bowed his head in prayer for about thirty minutes after which he exited the room.
More than 10,000 people were present for the papal Mass including Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and former President Felipe Calderon and some 30,000 others watching on big screens set up outside.
The basilica, located near Tepeyac hill, the site of Mary’s apparitions to St Juan Diego in 1531, rebuilt in 1976, houses the image of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary that Catholics believe miraculously became imprinted on a piece of fabric after she appeared to Mexican peasant in 1531because Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga had asked Juan to tell Our Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was .The Shrine which is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world has an estimated 20 million people visit the shrine every year.
During his homily, recalling the miraculous appearance of Mary’s image to St. Juan Diego, he noted that the Virgin’s humility led her to appear to a Poor man who thinks himself unworthy. “Just as she made herself present to little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to those who feel — like him — ‘worthless,’” the Pope said.
While Juan Diego insisted he wasn’t competent enough to oversee the building of the shrine, Mary insisted.
“We are all necessary, especially those who normally do not count because they are not ‘up to the task’ or ‘they do not have the necessary funds’ to build all these things,” the pope said. “God’s shrine is the life of his children, of everyone in whatever condition, especially of young people without a future who are exposed to endless painful and risky situations and the elderly who are unacknowledged, forgotten and out of sight.”
God’s true shrine, he added, is the life of his children, especially young people without a future, the elderly who are often unacknowledged and forgotten and families lacking even the most basic necessities.
“The shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day,” the pope said.
Pope Francis reiterated Mary’s words to St Juan Diego; “‘Am I not your mother? Am I not here with you?’ Are you not under my shadow and protection? Mary says this to us again. Go and build my shrine, help me to lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters,” the Pope said.