Today, Saturday 8 May 2021, is the Feast of Our Lady of Pompeii. It is a feast which really speaks to my heart!
One of the most beautiful shrines in Italy is certainly that dedicated to Our Lady of Pompei. I have the grace to visit this shrine in the first week of July of 2017 where I was also visiting the tomb of the holy physician of Naples St Joseph Moscati.
Pompeii for me remains a Marian sanctuary which really touched my heart. There I realised how much the Virgin Mary loved her people, especially the sick. There I met a family whose daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I remember that from that day on I never ever missed the chance of praying for her healing.
In this context I cannot forget those beautiful words which the German Pontiff, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, said in his homily at a mass he presided on the Square outside the Pontifical Shrine of Pompeii during his pastoral visit of Sunday 19 October 2008:
And how can I forget at this moment the people who are suffering, the sick, the elderly alone, young people in difficulty, prisoners, and all those in burdensome conditions of poverty and social and financial hardship? I would like to assure each and every one of my spiritual closeness and convey a testimony of my affection. I entrust you all to Mary, each one of you, dear faithful and inhabitants of this region, and you too, who are united in spirit with this celebration via radio and television, I entrust you all to Mary and invite you to trust always in her maternal support.
Mary’s maternal support is never lacking, most particularly in times of sickness and great distress! As an oncology patient and a chaplain within the same hospital, I am powerfully touched by the powerful words Pope Francis during his pastoral visit to Pompeii and Naples on Saturday 21 March 2015. While meeting the sick at the Basilica Del Gesù Nuovo, the Holy Father makes a heartfelt appeal to love, care and support the sick people. I am hundred percent sure that his earlier visit to Pompeii must surely have motivated him to speak the way he did here!
It isn’t easy to reach out to a sick person. Life’s most beautiful things and most miserable things are modest, are hidden. Out of modesty, one tries to hide the greatest love; and out of modesty, we also seek to hide the things that show our human misery. This is why, when visiting a sick person, it is necessary to go to him or her, because the modesty of life hides them. Visit the sick. And when there are lifelong illnesses, when we have diseases that mark an entire life, we prefer to hide them, because to visit a sick person means visiting our own illness, that which we have inside. It is having the courage to say to oneself: I too have some disease in my heart, in my soul, in my spirit, I too am spiritually ill.
God created us to change the world, to be efficient, to rule over Creation: it is our task. But when we are confronted with disease, we see that this illness prevents this: that man, that woman who was born that way, or whose body has become that way, it is like saying “no” — seemingly — to the mission of transforming the world. This is the mystery of sickness. One can approach illness only in the spirit of faith. We can draw near to a sick man, woman, boy or girl, only if we look to Him who took all of our sickness upon Himself, if we become accustomed to looking at Christ Crucified. The only explanation for this “failure”, this human failure, a lifetime of sickness, is there. The only explanation is in Christ Crucified.
I say to you, sick people, that if you cannot understand the Lord, I ask the Lord to enable you to understand in your heart that you are the flesh of Christ, that you are Christ Crucified among us, that you are the brothers and sisters closest to Christ. It is one thing to look at a Crucifix and it’s another thing to look at a man, woman, child who is sick, in other words crucified there in their illness: they are the living flesh of Christ.
Mary helps us absolutely to see Christ in the sick people. She helps us also to show our fraternal solidarity, as her children, towards each other, as brothers and sisters, particularly in these difficult times of the covid-19 pandemic. Hence, with Pope Francis, at this great feast day of Our Lady of Pompeii, let us pray to the Mother of God and our dearest Mother:
In the present tragic situation, when the whole world is prey to suffering and anxiety, we fly to you, Mother of God and our Mother, and seek refuge under your protection.
Virgin Mary, turn your merciful eyes towards us amid this coronavirus pandemic. Comfort those who are distraught and mourn their loved ones who have died, and at times are buried in a way that grieves them deeply. Be close to those who are concerned for their loved ones who are sick and who, in order to prevent the spread of the disease, cannot be close to them. Fill with hope those who are troubled by the uncertainty of the future and the consequences for the economy and employment.
Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us to God, the Father of mercies, that this great suffering may end and that hope and peace may dawn anew. Plead with your divine Son, as you did at Cana, so that the families of the sick and the victims be comforted, and their hearts be opened to confidence and trust.
Protect those doctors, nurses, health workers and volunteers who are on the frontline of this emergency, and are risking their lives to save others. Support their heroic effort and grant them strength, generosity and continued health.
Be close to those who assist the sick night and day, and to priests who, in their pastoral concern and fidelity to the Gospel, are trying to help and support everyone.
Blessed Virgin, illumine the minds of men and women engaged in scientific research, that they may find effective solutions to overcome this virus.
Support national leaders, that with wisdom, solicitude and generosity they may come to the aid of those lacking the basic necessities of life and may devise social and economic solutions inspired by farsightedness and solidarity.
Mary Most Holy, stir our consciences, so that the enormous funds invested in developing and stockpiling arms will instead be spent on promoting effective research on how to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
Beloved Mother, help us realize that we are all members of one great family and to recognize the bond that unites us, so that, in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity, we can help to alleviate countless situations of poverty and need. Make us strong in faith, persevering in service, constant in prayer.
Mary, Consolation of the afflicted, embrace all your children in distress and pray that God will stretch out his all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic, so that life can serenely resume its normal course.
To you, who shine on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope, do we entrust ourselves, O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. Amen.
Our Lady of Pompeii, Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us and for the whole world!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap