ROME – In a new letter sent to the pastor of an Argentine shrine dedicated to Saint Ramon Nonato, widely revered by locals as a patron of the unborn, Pope Francis said he tells newlyweds hoping to have children to put Nonato on the task.

In his letter, dated Aug. 6 and addressed to Father Rubén Ceraci, pastor of the Shine of Saint Ramon Nonato in Buenos Aires, Francis offered his “cordial greeting and my closeness” as the local community prepares for the Nonato’s feast day, celebrated Aug. 31.

Recalling his time visiting the shrine while still archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis said he remembered all “the blessings of mothers, of children, of married couples who are asking for a child” while attending festivities, calling the experience, “A true hymn for the life to come.”

Now that he is in Rome, Francis said that when he meets newlyweds during his weekly general audiences who ask for a blessing or a prayer so that they can have children, “I tell them to pray to Saint Ramón Nonato.”

If they are from Argentina, “I recommend that they pass by the shrine on the street of Cervantes,” he said, referring to street on which the shrine is located. “As you can see, I have you present,” he added.

The letter was posted to the shrine’s Facebook page, which shows photos of Francis celebrating Mass there while still archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Invoked as the protector of unborn children, Nonato (according to tradition) was born in Catalonia in 1200 and got his name from his birth by Caesarean section, as his mother died while giving birth. His name was coined from the fact that he was, non-nato, the direct translation of which is “not born,” or “unborn.”

As the story goes, Nonato’s mother collapsed after praying in front of an image of St. Nicolas of Bari for the intentions of her unborn son. The man who came to assist was Ramon Folch, the vice-count of Cardona, who had been hunting and who, upon seeing Nonato’s mother fall and finding that she had died, cut Nonato from her womb and saved his life. Nonato was then named after Folch, who became his godfather.

Nonato spent his early childhood years tending sheep and praying in that same chapel near his home. He later entered the Mercedarian order in Barcelona, which at the time had the task of ransoming Christian captives from North African Moors. He was trained by the founder of the order, St. Peter Nolasco, and was ordained in 1222.

He later became the master general of the order, and spent his life fulfilling its goals, at times enduring captivity himself in place of other hostages. It is believed that he died Aug. 31, in 1240.

Tradition holds that once Nonato died, there was disagreement over where to bury his remains. To resolve the dispute, his body was place on a blind mule which, when let loose, went unguided to the small chapel where Nonato had prayed as a child.

He was buried there and was canonized by Pope Alexander VII in 1657. Given his roots, Nonato has become a prime intercessor for motherhood and commitment to the promotion of life at every stage.

Nonato’s Aug. 31 feast is widely celebrated in Buenos Aires, and festivities at the shrine typically draw thousands. However, this year the events will be more modest, given restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

In the lead up to the feast, the shrine will launch a novena beginning Saturday, Aug. 22, and concluding Sunday, Aug. 30, the day before Nonato’s feast. The novena will be prayed at 7 p.m. local time and will include testimonies from pilgrims and the local community.

Mass will be celebrated Aug. 31 by the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli. Given current social distancing restrictions in place due to the coronavirus, the Mass will be livestreamed on the parish’s social media channels for those who cannot attend but who wish to watch online.

The theme of this year’s celebrations, which was voted on by the parish community, is “Together with Saint Raymond, we embrace hope.”

In his letter, Pope Francis noted that the events surrounding Nonato’s feast this year will be “somewhat atypical” given the COVID outbreak, but he said he is confident that despite the scaled-down festivities, “there will be abundant grace, peace, health, and fertility.”

As he typically does, Francis closed the letter saying he is praying for the community at the shrine and asked for prayers in return.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen