He stopped to pray before a Crucifix that was carried in a 16-day procession to stop the Plague
The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, announced the pope’s visits in a communique on Sunday.
This afternoon, just after 4 PM, Pope Francis left the Vatican and made a private visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, to offer a prayer to the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani, where her icon is kept and venerated.
Then, after taking a walk along the Via del Corso – as if making a pilgrimage – he visited the church of San Marcello on the Corso, where a miraculous crucifix is housed. In 1522 it was carried in procession throughout the neighborhoods of the city so that the “Great Plague” might cease in Rome.
With his prayer, the Holy Father pleaded for an end to the pandemic that has struck Italy and the world. He also implored the healing of the many sick people, remembered the numerous victims of these past days, and asked that their families and friends might find consolation and comfort.
His prayer intention was also extended to healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, and all those working in these days to guarantee the smooth functioning of society. The Holy Father returned to the Vatican around 5:30 p.m..
Signs of devotion
Pope Francis’ special devotion to Our Lady Salus Populi Romani is well-known. He visits her icon on major Marian feast days, and makes a point to stop in for a prayer both before and after his international Apostolic Journeys.
In 593 Pope St. Gregory the Great carried the icon in procession to stop a plague. And in 1837 Pope Gregory XVI invoked her to put an end to a cholera epidemic.
The Pope’s second stop on Sunday was also significant.
The church of San Marcello on the Corso houses a venerated wooden crucifix from the 15th century, which scholars hold is the most realistic in Rome. It survived a fire, and saved the city from a plague. Pope St. John Paul II embraced that same crucifix to mark the culmination of the Day of Forgiveness during the Jubilee Year of 2000.
Pope Francis also stopped to pray at the church’s statue of St. Joseph, who is recognized in the litany to him as comfort of the afflicted, hope of the sick, and patron of the dying.
The numerous traditions of miracles attributed to the “Most Holy Crucifix” began on May 23, 1519.
On that night a large fire completely destroyed the church that bears Pope Marcel’s name. The entire building was found in ruins the next morning. But from the ashes emerged the crucifix of the main altar, untouched. A small oil lamp still burned at the Crucified’s feet.
The scene greatly touched the faithful of Rome, and several began to meet every Friday evening to pray. Pope Leo X ordered the rebuilding of the church in 1519.
Three years after the fire, Rome was hit by the “Great Plague.”
Tradition recounts that the faithful carried the crucifix in procession, through the streets of Rome toward St. Peter’s Basilica. The procession lasted 16 days: August 4-20, 1522. As it progressed, the plague showed signs of retreating, and every neighborhood sought to keep the crucifix as long as possible.
Finally, as the crucifix re-entered the church, the plague ceased altogether.
Since 1600, the procession from the church of San Marcello to St. Peter’s Basilica became a tradition repeated during Holy Years. The names of the popes who called each Jubilee are inscribed on the back of the crucifix, along with the year.
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