As you know there are four major basilicas of Rome: St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Wall and St. John Lateran which is the church of the Popes. However it is the fourth basilica that has a little known, but great significance for Pope Francis. I have written before about this basilica. The oldest church dedicated to the Blessed Mother was begun in August of 324 AD, just after the end of the persecution of Christianity. Pope Liberius had a vision in which the Blessed Mother asked that a church be built in her honor. A sign would be given to designate the outline of the church, and so on August 4, 325—in the middle of a Roman heat wave—it snowed. The snow fell in the outline of the church Mary wanted built. The church was built.
When Columbus discovered the New World, the first gold sent back to Spain was given to Pope Alexander VI, the Spanish Rodrigo Borgia, who placed it onto the ceiling of Saint Mary Major Basilica. It is still there.
What is not reported, and what people do not see, is that Pope Francis—the first Pope from the New World—always begins and ends his papal trips by visiting this oldest basilica dedicated to Mary. The media does not cover this, but it has become Francis’ custom to stop at the Basilica of Mary Major beginning his apostolic journeys and, upon his return, he goes to the basilica to present flowers to the image of the Virgin Mary called “Salus Poplui Romani ” (“The Salvation of the People of Rome”). I have said Mass on that small side altar in the transept under the gold of Christopher Columbus.
To this day on the August 5th Feast of the Dedication of Saint Mary Major, white rose petals are dropped from the dome to recall one of the oldest titles of Mary: “Our Lady of the Snows.” This is where Pope Francis quietly went upon his return from the United States. What a wonderful visit it was for us. How many lives were changed? How many hearts silently touched? Thank you Holy Father.
Fr. Gerard Gordon