Pope Francis Saturday morning visited the famed marian shrine of, before heading to Naples for a highly anticipated one-day visit aimed at showing solidarity with the poor, afflicted and imprisoned in a city notorious for organized crime.
The Pope departed the Vatican this morning at 7:15am and travelled by helicopter to the southern Italian basilica, arriving at the nearby heliport at 8:00am. There he was greeted by Archbishop Tomaso Caputo of Pompeii, the pontifical delegate for the Sanctuary and several local dignitaries.
After spending several minutes in quiet prayer before the famous image of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Pope greeted the faithful, saying: “Thank you. Thank you so much for this warm welcome. We prayed to Our Lady, so that she might bless us all, you, me, and the whole world. We need Our Lady to watch over us. And pray for me, don’t forget. Now I invite you all to recite a Hail Mary to Our Lady and then I will give you the blessing.”
Pope Francis has often spoken of his love for the Virgin Mary and the importance of Marian shrines. Archbishop Caputo described Pope Francis’ visit to Pompeii as “an event of extraordinary ecclesial importance.”
“The filial and tender Marian devotion that the Pope continues to show is also at the root of the Church of Pompeii’s strong commitment towards the humblest and neediest among us,” he said in a statement leading up to this morning’s papal visit.
The archbishop added that "aside from our joy for his visit, we hope that Pope Francis will show us the path to take to be even closer to and more united with our people.”
Pope Francis met with several of the recipients of the good works of the shrine such as the homeless, the poor, and unwed mothers.
Pope St. John Paul II also visited Pompeii on October 21,1979, during his visit to Naples, and he returned there on October 7, 2003 for the conclusion of the Year of the Rosary.
Pope Benedict XVI presented his sixth Golden Rose to Our Lady at the shrine of Pompei, during the month dedicated to to the Rosary, on October 19, 2008.
Following his early morning stop in Pompeii, Pope Francis headed by helicopter to the city of Naples for a one-day visit that includes the celebration of Holy Mass, lunch with detainees at the city’s local prison, and an afternoon pilgrimage to the city’s Cathedral, where he will venerate the relics of Naples’ patron, St. Gennaro.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.