Last Wednesday, as the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a “global pandemic” and as Italy was preparing for a full lockdown, Pope Francis offered a prayer to the Virgin Mary, entrusting the whole world to the protection of Mary.
I remember thinking, “that sounds so Catholic,” before scrolling past the headline to consume more anxiety-inducing articles about the pandemic. Yet, when I returned to that prayer today, I found it immensely consoling. Not only was the pope asking Mary to pray for the world, but he was inviting the world to consider Mary as he and the people of Rome do.
It would be easy to read Pope Francis’ prayer and miss these references to Rome’s particular relationship with the Mother of God. On one hand, the pope is fulfilling his role as bishop of Rome by alluding to the two most important Marian centres in the city. On the other hand, I think Francis is also inviting the whole world into Rome’s intimacy with the Virgin Mary.
At a time of social distancing, increased anxiety and worldwide fear, Francis is not just making an appeal to Catholic devotion. He is calling us all to consider Mary not as an abstract helper but as a mother who has a proven track record of healing, protecting and watching over her people.
Angelo Jesus Canta is a graduate student of theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and former O’Hare Fellow at America. He studied Marian devotion in Italy and China as a Ricci Scholar at Loyola University Chicago.
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With thanks to America Magazine and Angelo Jesus Canta, where this article originally appeared.