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As is his custom, he went to St. Mary Major after arriving back from Madagascar

Pope Francis stops in to visit Mary and Baby Jesus at the Basilica of St. Mary Major before and after he leaves for an apostolic trip. Today, as he gave a recap of his 31st apostolic voyage — which brought him to Mauritius, Madagascar, and Mozambique this week — he explained why this little visit to Our Lady is so important to him.

“Before beginning a trip, and when I get back, I always go to see the Virgin, the Salus Populi Romani, so that she will accompany me during the trip as a mother — to tell me what I need to do, to watch over my words and my actions. With the Virgin, I go with certainty.”

This was Pope Francis’ 31st apostolic visit and his fourth trip to Africa.

The Basilica of St. Mary Major is traced back to a miracle that happened in the 4th century. Our Lady made it snow at the site, even though it was August, and this led to the basilica being built there.

The image of Salus Populi Romani is one of the oldest Marian images in existence.

It is a traditional Byzantine icon that emerged during the 5th century, when Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. It depicts the Blessed Mother as Salus Populi Romani, Latin for “health of the Roman People.”

The icon is painted on a cedar panel, and depicts Mary with a dark blue mantle trimmed with gold over a purple tunic, the typical dress of figures of power in 5th-century Rome. She is holding the Christ Child, who is shown with a book in his left hand, presumably the Gospel. Unlike the 3rd-century representations of similar scenes, we see Mary, rather than Jesus, looking directly at the viewer.

Art historians have long argued about a precise dating of this icon, and the consensus has it as a Late Antique icon created in the 5th century that was over-painted during the 13th century. It is kept in the Pauline Chapel of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.

Raphael Benedict

Raphael Benedict

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