Pope Francis Restores Beloved Marian Icon to Prominence


National Catholic Register, 31 January 2018

The Holy Father has had a devotion to Salus Populi Romani since his first days as pope.

Pope Francis offered Sunday Mass at the Basilica St. Mary Major to celebrate the restoration of the beloved Marian icon Salus Populi Romani (Mary, Protectress of the Roman People).

In truth, it is the Holy Father himself who has restored Salus Populi Romani to prominence in Rome. Its artistic restoration followed a devotional resurgence led by Pope Francis, beginning on his first full day as pope.

It was from the central balcony of St. Peter’s, during his first appearance, that Francis announced that he would “go to the Madonna” the next day. Where would that be? There are no shortage of Marian images and churches in Rome. The new pontiff chose the most ancient basilica of St. Mary Major, in which is kept the Salus Populi Romani.

Just as various nations have their own Marian shrines with their distinctive Marian images, Salus Populi Romani is that for Rome, estimated to have arrived in the Eternal City from the east as early as the fifth century. It first came to prominence in 597, when Pope St. Gregory the Great had the image carried in procession through Rome during an outbreak of the plague.

Since that time, Romans have turned to the image in times of sickness — salus can be translated as “health” – or military danger — salus can also be translated as “salvation.”

Pope Francis turns to the image as a matter of regular piety. He has visited the image more than 50 times in his pontificate, usually praying there before every foreign trip and stopping there on his return home from the airport.

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