The Popes and the feast of Our Lady of Pompei

Painting of our Lady of the Rosary venerated in Pompeii. domain

May 8th is the traditional feast day of Our Lady of Pompeii, which reminds us of the power of the Marian prayer of the Rosary, through which the Lord turned a city given to paganism and sin into a city of grace and forgiveness, thanks to the protection of Mary, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Various Popes visited this special place of Pompei. Each of them left a great inheritance of reflections, prayers and hope. In his pastoral visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, on Tuesday 7 October 2003, Pope St John Paul II described his visit one granted to him by the Blessed Virgin. The Pope put the Rosary as part and parcel of the urgent commitment of the new evangelization. For Pope Woytla, Pompei is a tangible response that the “Gospel” … saves (no.1). Pompei is the example for our world which needs Christ to save it. He said: Today, as in the times of ancient Pompei, it is vital to proclaim Christ to a society that is drifting away from Christian values and even forgetting about them (no.2).

At Pompei John Paul II asks a very important question: What actually is the Rosary? A compendium of the Gospel. It brings us back again and again to the most important scenes of Christ’s life, almost as if to let us “breathe” his mystery. The Rosary is the privileged path to contemplation. It is, so to speak, Mary’s way. Is there anyone who knows and loves Christ better than she? How sad then when a person argues that Mary loves Jesus as you and me would love him. No one can love Jesus as Mary does and that is why it is so important to tell her: Mary help me to love Jesus as you love Him.

Another pilgrim to the Shrine of Pompeii was certainly Pope Benedict XVI, on his pastoral visit of Sunday 19 October 2008. In that visit he gave a mediation on the Rosary. Pope Benedict described the Rosary as a school of contemplation and silence. Then he went on commenting on the prayer itself of how it is a school of both contemplation and silence. He said: At first glance, it could seem a prayer that accumulates words, therefore difficult to reconcile with the silence that is rightly recommended for meditation and contemplation. In fact, this cadent repetition of the Hail Mary does not disturb inner silence but indeed both demands and nourishes it... The silence surfaces through the words and sentences, not as emptiness, but rather as the presence of an ultimate meaning that transcends the words themselves and through them speaks to the heart. Thus, in reciting the Hail Mary, we must be careful that our voices do not “cover” the voice of God who always speaks through the silence like the “still small voice” of a gentle breeze (1 Kgs 19: 12). Then how important it is to foster this silence full of God, both in one’s personal recitation and in its recitation with the community! Even when the Rosary is prayed, as today, by great assemblies, and as you do in this Shrine every day, it must be perceived as a contemplative prayer. And this cannot happen without an atmosphere of inner silence.

In his meditation Pope Benedict XVI spoke about what it means to be apostles of the Rosary, experiencing the beauty of the prayer and let Jesus’ transforming attitude changes the one who prays the prayer. He said: To be apostles of the Rosary, however, it is necessary to experience personally the beauty and depth of this prayer which is simple and accessible to everyone. It is first of all necessary to let the Blessed Virgin take one by the hand to contemplate the Face of Christ: a joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious Face. Those who, like Mary and with her, cherish and ponder the mysteries of Jesus assiduously, increasingly assimilate his sentiments and are conformed to him. In this regard, I would like to quote a beautiful thought of Bl. Bartolo Longo: “Just as two friends, frequently in each other’s company, tend to develop similar habits”, he wrote, “so too, by holding familiar converse with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection” (I Quindici Sabati del Santissimo Rosario, 27th edition, Pompeii, 1916, p. 27: cited in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 15).

Finally, Pope Francis visited Pompei as part of his pastoral visit to Napoli. The following are the words the Pope said at the end of the prayer at the Sanctuary of Pompei on Saturday 21 March 2015: Thank you very much! Thank you so much for this warm welcome. We prayed to Our Lady to bless us all: you, me, and the whole world. We need the Madonna to protect us. And pray for me, don’t forget. Now I invite you to all recite a Hail Mary to the Madonna together and then I will give you the Blessing.

Let us go to Our Lady of Pompei and, in front of Her, we make our prayer to Her:

O August Queen of Victories, O Sovereign of Heaven and Earth, at whose name the heavens rejoice and the abyss trembles.   O Glorious Queen of the Rosary, we your devoted children, assembled in your Temple of Pompeii (on this solemn day 1), pour out the affection of our heart and with filial confidence express our miseries to You.

From the Throne of clemency where You are seated as Queen, turn, O Mary, your merciful gaze on us, on our families, on Italy, on Europe, on the whole world.   Have compassion on the sorrow and cares  which embitter our lives. See, O Mother, how many dangers of body and soul, how many calamities and afflictions press upon us.

O Mother, implore for us the mercy of your Divine Son and conquer with clemency the hearts of sinners.  They are our brothers and your children who cause the heart of our sweet Jesus to bleed and who sadden your most sensitive Heart.   Show all what you are, the Queen of Peace and of Pardon.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.