Pope Francis has strong connection to Mary

From Blessed Pius IX’s solemn declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 to Pope Benedict XVI’s moving homilies during his pilgrimages to Lourdes (2008) and Fatima (2010), the popes of the past century-and-a-half have enriched the Church with their Marian piety and teaching.

Pope Francis is part and parcel of this tradition of Marian popes. After Pope St. John Paul II died in 2005, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio wrote that in 1985, seven years before he was ordained a bishop, John Paul’s example had inspired him to begin to pray all of the mysteries of the Rosary daily.

The day after he was elected pope in March 2013, Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome in order to entrust his papacy to the Blessed Mother.

On Our Lady of the Free

In May 2013, Pope Francis wrote a letter commemorating the 600th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of the Madonna della Libera (Our Lady of the Free), which is venerated in a shrine in the south-central Italian town of Cercemaggiore. While plowing his field, a farmer discovered a terracotta pot in which the statue was hidden, and a spring gushed forth. Pope Francis wrote that “many marvels and many healings ... confirmed and increased the faith of the inhabitants.”

On Marian icon in Budslau

That same month, the pope also wrote a letter marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of a Marian icon in Budslau, the national Marian shrine in the Eastern European nation of Belarus. In his letter, the pope said that this “most beautiful image of the Holy Mother of God” is “renowned for graces.”

“Having been placed in the wooden church, the icon from the very beginning was honored by common faithful people; it became famous for its miracles and mercies,” the Church in Belarus states on its website. “The first miracle was recorded in 1617 when a 5-year-old boy, Yazafat Tyshkevich, who later became a famous Carmelite father, regained the ability to see.”

On Our Lady of Aparecida

In July, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s principal Marian shrine, “to ask Mary our Mother for the success of World Youth Day and to place at her feet the life of the people of Latin America.”

“Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope — the great hope which faith gives us — knows that even in the midst of difficulties, God acts and he surprises us,” Pope Francis preached. “The history of this shrine is a good example: (In 1717) three fishermen, after a day of catching no fish, found something unexpected in the waters of the Parnaíba River — an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Whoever would have thought that the site of a fruitless fishing expedition would become the place where all Brazilians can feel that they are children of one mother?”

On Our Lady of Bonaria

In September, Pope Francis visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria (Fair Winds) on the island of Sardinia. In 1370, a case containing cargo from a storm-tossed ship washed ashore; the case contained a statue of Our Lady that has been venerated ever since.

“I wish to entrust you to Mary, Our Lady of Bonaria,” the pope said to the faithful. “But in this moment I think of all the Marian Shrines of Sardinia: Your land has a strong bond with Mary, a bond that you express in your devotions and your culture. May you ever be children of Mary and of the Church, and may you show it with your life, following the example of the saints!”

On Our Lady of Fátima

On Oct. 13, the anniversary of the miracle of the sun by Our Lady of Fátima, Pope Francis consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “Blessed Virgin Mary of Fátima, with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence we join in the voice of all generations that call you blessed,” he prayed. “Accept with the benevolence of a mother this act of entrustment that we make in faith today, before this your image, beloved to us.”

On Our Lady of Kibeho

In April, Pope Francis twice referred to the apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho in Rwanda. Beginning in 1981, Our Lady began appearing to three high school students and asked them to urge everyone to pray to prevent a terrible war. The number of alleged seers eventually grew; in 2001, Bishop Augustin Misago of Gikongoro approved the apparitions that continued through 1983.

“The Mother of Jesus wished to appear in your country to several children, reminding them of the efficacy of fasting and of prayer, especially the recitation of the Rosary,” Pope Francis told the bishops of Rwanda on April 3.

Three days later, Pope Francis told the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address that “I invoke upon the whole of the beloved Rwandan nation the motherly protection of Our Lady of Kibeho ... and I invite all of you now to pray to the Madonna, Our Lady of Kibeho.”

J. J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina.

Our Lady Undoer of Knots
While the devotion is new, the image and story of Mary Undoer of Knots is not. The story dates back to 1612, when a German couple were on the brink of divorce. The couple sought advice from a Jesuit priest, who held up the couple’s wedding ribbon to an image of Mary and prayed: “I raise up the bond of marriage, that all knots be loosed and resolved.” (At the time, during the wedding ceremony, a bride and groom were literally tied together with a ribbon as a symbol of their new union.) The unknotted ribbon became bright white — a sign of Mary’s intercession — and the couple’s marriage survived.