ZENIT – English
Pope Francis made a surprise visit to Saint Mary Major on Wednesday, the feast of the dedication of the Papal Basilica, reported Vatican News.
At the church, the Holy Father knelt for a few moments in prayer in the Borghese Chapel, before the image of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani (“Salvation of the Roman People”).August 5th is marked throughout the universal Church as the anniversary of the dedication of Saint Mary Major. In the Roman Rite, is observed liturgically as an optional memorial.
The origins of the Basilica are shrouded in legend, as Vatican News recalled.
According to a late tradition, on the night of August 4-5, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius, and to a Roman patrician named John, requesting that they build a church on a spot that would be shown to them.
The first part of August in Rome is notoriously hot and humid. But on the morning of August 5, 358, the people of Rome were greeted with an almost unbelievable sight: a blanket of snow covering a part of the top of the Esquiline Hill, indicating the place where the church should be built.
For centuries, the Church in Rome has celebrated the dedication of the Saint Mary Major, also known as the Liberian Basilica, with special rituals. During the singing of the Gloria at the principle Solemn Mass, a portion of the ceiling is opened, and white jasmine petals are showered on the congregation in commemoration of the miraculous origins of the Basilica.
This year, once again, citizens of Rome and visitors to the City celebrate the miraculous fall of snow that marked the origins of the papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
The celebration of the Dedication begins with a meditative Rosary followed by Vespers, celebrated on the days leading up to the feast itself.
This year, the Solemn Pontifical Mass was celebrated on Wednesday morning by Cardinal Stanislaw Ryłko, the Archpriest of the Basilica. After the recitation of the Rosary in the afternoon, Archbishop Piero Marini presided at Vespers, where, at the Magnificat, flower petals once more dropped from the ceiling. The liturgical celebrations conclude with a Solemn Mass offered by Archbishop Francesco Canalini.
Saint Mary Major is one of the four “Papal Basilicas” (the others are the Archbasilica of St John Lateran, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls). Of the four, it is the only one to preserve its paleo-Christian structure. The Basilicas bell tower is the tallest in Rome, at 75 meters. It contains five bells, one of which – known as “La Sperduta” or “the lost one” – rings every evening at 9 o’clock to call the faithful to prayer.
The magnificent Basilica is comprised of a nave and two side aisles, constructed according to the Vitruvian canon of rhythmic elegance. Saint Mary Major is home to beautiful frescos showing the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is justly famous for the series of mosaics recalling events of salvation history: the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua, as well as the infancy of Christ.
One can also find in the Basilica the icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani (“Salvation of the Roman People”), which popular piety has always held in the highest esteem.
Pope Francis, too, is particularly devoted to the Blessed Mother under this title and visited the Basilica the day after his election to the pontificate in 2013 to offer prayers in the chapel that houses the image. In the succeeding years, the Holy Father has repeated this visit before and after his Apostolic Journeys, to offer prayers and thanksgiving to our Blessed Mother.
A pious legend holds that the Icon of the Salus Populi Romani was painted by St Luke the Evangelist. It is normally kept in the Borghese Chapel in the Basilica, although it is occasionally moved for special occasions.
Most recently, the icon was brought to St Peter’s Basilica for Pope Francis’ extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
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A huge explosion in the Lebanese capital has devastated communities within a six-mile radius. The circumstances of the explosion are not yet known, but Save the Children teams on the ground reported entire streets wiped out, with children unaccounted for as rescue teams work through destroyed buildings to get people out of the rubble. Residential and commercial buildings have been shattered in what is being described as the biggest explosion in Lebanon’s recent history.
Hospitals in Beirut are reporting that they are unable to treat further casualties as hundreds of beds immediately filled up following the blast. A further hospital in the capital has been completely decimated. The military has deployed to rescue those caught in the wreckage, with medical personnel treating casualties on the streets.
Save the Children confirms that its offices in Beirut, around three miles from the harbor, were badly damaged in the explosion, which shook the building and destroyed shopfronts in the neighborhood. Our rapid response team stands by prepared to support the government in their efforts in the coming days.
One of our staff members, Nour Wahid, who lives 10 minutes away, said, “At first, the building started to shake—I thought it was an earthquake. Five of my nieces and nephews were out on the balcony playing when the blast went off. They started to scream and run as the windows collapsed around them; they were all wounded. Hospitals told us they couldn’t take them in because they were prioritizing serious injuries.”
Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s Country Director in Lebanon, said:
“We are shocked and devastated by the explosion today. The death toll may not be known for several days but what we do know is that in a disaster like this, children may be hurt, shocked, and separated from their parents. Our child protection teams are ready to support the government’s efforts, which will almost certainly go on for several days to come. It is vital that children and their families get access to the services they urgently need, including medical care and physical and emotional protection.
“The incident could not have occurred at a worse time and has hit communities who were already suffering from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the economic deterioration. Beirut’s main port, now completely damaged, is vital for much of the food, grains, and fuel that Lebanon imports, and families will immediately feel the shortage in basic needs as a result of this tragedy.”
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Caritas Internationalis expresses its solidarity and compassion to the Church of Lebanon, to the Lebanese people and to Caritas Lebanon, after the deadly blasts on August 4, that flattened parts of Beirut and killed at least 78 people and injured nearly 4,000.
“It is a terrible and disastrous situation and today we live in total confusion,” told Rita Rhayem, director of Caritas Lebanon, whose staff immediately took action to bring relief to those affected by the explosion. Caritas confederation is also launching an emergency plan coordinated by the general secretariat of Caritas Internationalis to immediately assist victims.
“The situation is critical and this is the first time that we have experienced a situation of such great magnitude, it is apocalyptic, but we don’t stop and we will carry on in order to help all those in difficulty” emphasizes Rita Rhayem. “There are a lot of dead and a lot of injured, and the health situation is likely to worsen quickly, as the toxic gases can cause additional health problems. Caritas Lebanon is preparing for this, but its health centers have no means to face this kind of situation, and rescue operations are made even more difficult by the lack of electricity”.
Caritas Lebanon’s headquarters was also badly damaged by the explosion. Fortunately, the office had closed shortly before the explosion and therefore no staff were injured.
“Since 6:00 p.m. yesterday, the country has stopped and we are living a nightmare. We have nothing to help the population,” says the president of Caritas Lebanon, father Michel Abboud. “Beirut is devastated and we are totally overwhelmed by the scale of the events.”
“The wounded are received in our primary care centers which are overwhelmed, the hospitals are incredibly crowded. They lack everything, including food to support the affected population,” added Rita Rhayem. The young volunteers are mobilized and they go in search of the wounded.
As Caritas Internationalis secretary-general Aloysius John points out, yesterday’s large-scale explosions inflicted a further injury to a Lebanon already on its knees due to the economic crisis, the violence, the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of the economic sanctions imposed to Syria. John says that “the international community must intervene urgently and unconditionally to help the population. There is a need to support the efforts of faith-based civil society organizations, in particular Caritas Lebanon, which is present throughout the country to meet basic and urgent needs, especially in this time of tribulation and trials for the Lebanese people”.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that the effects of economic sanctions and political violence have weakened this country and are weighing heavily on Lebanon, which is facing a food shortage. It is vital that the international community acts decisively to alleviate the suffering of poor Lebanese, immediately removing economic sanctions,” Aloysius John added.
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An emergency food package of £226,000 (250,000EUR) is to be rushed out to Beirut by a leading Catholic charity in the wake of the huge explosion on August 4.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) grant will target poor families worst affected by the blast which devastated the port area of the Lebanese capital.
At least 100 people were killed and 4,000 others were injured when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse exploded.
Speaking from Beirut, ACN project partner Father Raymond Abdo told the charity: “The explosion felt like an atomic bomb with red smoke everywhere and huge damage.”
ACN Lebanon expert Father Samer Nassif, said that the Christian zone of Beirut was “completely devastated”, with at least 10 churches destroyed, 300,000 people homeless and many others suffering, with livelihoods “totally destroyed” by the blast.
He said: “Yesterday in one second, more damage to the Christian quarter of Beirut was done than throughout the long years of the civil war.
“We have to build it again from the ground up.”
Fathers Abdo and Nassif said that, after the long-running economic crisis and the coronavirus, Lebanon is ill-equipped to deal with the emergency and urgently needed international help for the people’s basic needs.
In “An Appeal to the Countries of the World” sent today (Wednesday, 5th August), Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, President of the Conference of Patriarchs and Catholic Bishops of Lebanon, said: “Beirut is a devastated city.
“Beirut, the fiancée of the East and the beacon of the West, is wounded.
“It’s a war scene – there is destruction and desolation in all its streets, its districts, and its houses.”
Father Abdo described how at a convent not far from his monastery, a sick, elderly religious Sister died from her injuries in the blast.
The Carmelite priest said she was the only one not in the convent dining room at the time of the blast and, had the others been in their rooms, many would have died or been seriously wounded.
Aid to the Church in Need is appealing for prayer for the victims and their families.