TRUJILLO, Peru – Pope Francis on Saturday displayed yet another example of his love affair with the Virgin Mary, presiding over a Marian celebration in Peru’s “city of the eternal spring,” where popular Catholic devotion is nearly ubiquitous and people proudly display their devotion to the Mother of God.
The pontiff linked the love affair with the Virgin with women’s issues today.
In Trujillo, Francis spoke against the “scourge that affects our American continent: cases of femicides, and the many situations of violence that are kept quiet behind so many walls.”
The pontiff called for a fight against this suffering through legislation, and a culture that “repudiates every form of violence.”
Femicide describes instances in which women are murdered by men for reasons linked to their status as females. Of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates in the world, 50 percent are in Latin America.
It was the second time in two days that Francis has spoken about violence against women, with the previous message coming on Friday, when he was in Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon region.
“Violence against women cannot be treated as ‘normal’, maintaining a culture of machismo blind to the leading role that women play in our communities,” Francis said on that occasion.
Images of the Immaculate Virgin of the Gate of Otuzco, Our Lady of Mercies from Paita, the Mother of Sorrows from Cajamera, Our lady of Assumption from Cutervo, the Immaculate Conception of Chota, Our Lady of Alta Gracia from Huamachuco, Our Lady of the Assumption from Chachapoyas, Our Lady of the Assumption of Usquil and Our Lady of Succour from Huanchoco were all present in Trujillo’s famed Plaza de Armas, where as Francis said, dreams of freedom for all Peruvians were first awakened.
Thousands of people cheered as Francis named each devotion, coming from all the corners of Peru, as “each tiny corner of this land, is accompanied by the face of a saint, and by love for Jesus Christ and for his Mother.”
In total, some 40 images, not all of them of Mary, but also of Jesus, saints and the Holy Family, were present in the Marian celebration, yet the pope’s remarks were focused almost solely on her.
Mary, Francis said, will always be a “mestiza Mother, because in her heart all races find a place, for love seeks out everyone possible to love and be loved.”
The diversity of the images and variety of invocations present, the pope said, is God’s way of drawing near to each person, and they express his desire to be close to each heart, “so that the language of God’s love is always spoken in dialect.”
Seeing the Virgin taking on the features of her children, the way they dress and speaking their dialect, inspires hope, Francis said.
Mary, Francis said, “shows us the way home. She brings us to Jesus, who is the Gate of Mercy.”
Francis’s love affair with Our Lady is well documented, and it began long before Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio was made a bishop: In 1990, the future pope gave up TV because of a promise he made to the Virgin of Carmel.
After he was appointed archbishop of Buenos Aires, in Argentina, he’d participate in a massive pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of his country. Before and after every foreign trip today, he visits Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major to venerate the famous icon of Our Lady known as Salus Populi Romani (protectress of the Roman people).
When he stops at St. Mary Major on his way to the Vatican after returning from an overseas journey, Francis usually leaves a bouquet of flowers presented to him during the trip.
In early 2016, he made a politically-charged trip to Mexico, visiting Ciudad Juarez on the border with the United States to deliver a strong appeal in favor of immigrants. Yet before and during the trip, he said time and time again he would visit Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, and everything else was decided after.
“How could I not come?” Francis asked the Mexican bishops when he met with them. “Could the Successor of Peter, called from the far south of Latin America, deprive himself of seeing la Virgen Morenita?”
In 2013, soon after his election, he changed the itinerary of the already planned trip to Brazil, to participate in World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, to include a day trip to the home of the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.
Francis has spoken about how his devotion to Mary helped him through his election to the papacy, about praying the Rosary three times a day, and that he always makes a point of stopping and even presenting flowers at the feet of Our Lady when she’s in St. Peter’s Square or wherever he celebrates Mass during his trips abroad.
During his visit to Poland in July 2016, he tripped and almost fell while celebrating Mass at the Jasna Gora monastery, in Czestochowa. Speaking to journalists on the flight back, he said he was simply “looking at the Madonna, and I forgot about the step.”
The list of examples to illustrate the pope’s devotion to the Mother of God is endless. However, it wasn’t always as strong as it is now, instead developing throughout the years, with two events in the 1980s marking him in particular.
In 2005, after the death of St. John Paul II, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Beroglio wrote a piece for a special issue of the Italian magazine 30 Giorni, dedicated to the late pontiff. In it, the man who today leads the Church wrote about once praying the rosary with the Polish pope and the impact it had on him.
“If I remember well, it was 1985. One evening I went to recite the holy Rosary that was being led by the Holy Father. He was in front of everybody, on his knees,” Bergoglio writes.
“The group was numerous; I saw the Holy Father from the back, and, little by little, I got lost in prayer. I was not alone: I was praying in the middle of the people of God to which I and all those there belonged, led by our pastor.”
It’s unclear, from the original text, if this took place during John Paul’s 1982 trip to Argentina, or in some other place in 1985. Yet the where and when seem to have been secondary for Bergoglio.
“I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path back to his Mother in the sky, a path set out from his childhood,” he wrote. “I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the pope, a witness he never ceased to give. From that moment, I recite the 15 mysteries of the Rosary every day.”
Pope Francis has been in Peru since Thursday, as part of his sixth trip to Latin America, which began in Chile. On Sunday, he is scheduled to fly back to Rome.