ROME – For hundreds of years, the Shrine of the Holy House of Loreto has been among the most popular destinations for Marian devotees in Italy. With a jubilee just weeks away, and a new status on the Church’s liturgical calendar, the shrine’s importance seems destined to continue to grow.

According to Diletta D’Agostini, a journalist who works in communications for the shrine, because of the historic relics Loreto holds, it “preserves and safeguards” the walls of what’s believed to be the house in which the Virgin Mary grew up.

Located roughly 153 miles northeast of Rome, Loreto is home to what’s believed to be the house in which the Virgin Mary was born, where she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, where she subsequently conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Family later lived.

Tradition holds that the Holy House of Loreto, made of three stone walls, was carried by angels from Nazareth to Loreto on the night of Dec. 9-10 in 1294, making a three-year stop in Croatia along the way.

Guardians of the shrine say the stones of the house were taken from the Holy Land and shipped to Italy by a member of the prominent local Angeli family. That family name in Italian means “angels,” leading many to believe that this is where the popular belief that the house was carried to Italy by angels has its roots.

The shrine routinely holds events for young people, families and the sick. It also runs a hotel for pilgrims and tourists, and it has a conference center for large meetings and retreats.

Loreto also holds special significance for the Bishop of Rome. In October 1962, St. John XXIII became the first pope to leave Rome since pontiffs had declared themselves “Prisoners of the Vatican” after the loss of the papal states in 1870 during the unification of Italy.

During his trip to Loreto, John XXIII asked the Madonna to intercede on behalf of the Second Vatican Council just before it opened. St. John Paul II then visited the shrine five times and Benedict XVI twice.

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Francis himself visited Loreto in March. During the trip, he announced his decision to grant the Shrine of the Holy House an extraordinary jubilee in honor of the centenary of the proclamation of Our Lady of Loreto as the patroness of aviation and air travel.

Announced March 25, the jubilee will begin Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and it will conclude in 2020 on the Dec. 10 feast of Our Lady of Loreto.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will inaugurate the jubilee by opening the Holy Door at the Loreto shrine. According to tradition, any pilgrim who passes through the door will be able to obtain a plenary indulgence, which means the remission of punishment due to sin.

Francis further upped Loreto’s profile on Oct. 31 when he issued a decree adding the Dec. 10 feast of Our Lady of Loreto to all calendars and liturgical books for the celebration of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church’s official daily prayer.

In the decree, dated on the Oct. 7 feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, it was said that putting the Loreto feast day on the Catholic Church’s universal calendar “will help all people, especially families, youth and religious to imitate the virtues of the perfect disciple of the Gospel, the Virgin Mother, who, in conceiving the head of the Church also accepted us as her own.”

Welcoming thousands of visitors a year, the Loreto shrine is the most important Marian pilgrimage destination in Italy, and over the course of the jubilee it will likely see a significant uptick in the number of visitors who come to pray and venerate the Mother of God.

In an interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Fabio Dal Cin, the papal delegate to the shrine, said the jubilee was a “great opportunity to strengthen the bonds of devotion to the Mother of Heaven.”

Playing on the fact that Our Lady of Loreto is the patroness of aviation and aviators, Dal Cin insisted that “We are called to fly high” in pursuit of God. “We are called to holiness, to the fullness of life and happiness that is the holiness offered by the Lord.”

On Nov. 1, which marks the Catholic feast of All Saints Day, a special Mass formally announcing the jubilee was celebrated at the Loreto shrine by Father Krzysztof Józef Nykiel, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

In his homily, Nykiel stressed the importance of pursuing holiness in daily life, insisting that the Virgin Mary is a key companion in this process.

Calling the Loreto shrine a “privileged place of contemplating the incarnation of the Son of God,” as it marks the place where Mary proclaimed her fiat to God and became the mother of his son, Nykiel noted that the Church “has always venerated Mary as the full model of the holiness of God.”

As a mother, Mary, and Our Lady of Loreto in particular, “will always accompany our path as children, lift us (from) our fatigues, bless our proposals, alleviate our suffering and amplify our faith.”

“Let us allow ourselves to be led by Mary during our pilgrimage as children, placing ourselves in the hands of the most tender of mothers,” he said, adding that “God himself, in this difficult time we are living, always comes to us in his time through the maternal love of Mary, who shows us the path to salvation and holiness.”

At the close of Mass, Dal Cin read aloud the formal bull establishing the jubilee and voiced thanks to Pope Francis for granting the Loreto shrine the year of celebration.

As the jubilee approaches, “we want to welcome the metaphor of Christian life: we are all called to fly high, to joy, to true happiness, to holiness. We need to fly high to see ourselves, reality, the created world and our own lives in the right way,” he said.

“Let us prepare for this historic event with prayer, welcoming with generous availability the abundance of grace” that will be bestowed during the jubilee celebrations, he said.

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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