His Marian Legacy Continues

As prominent Catholic blogger Rocco Palmo recently noted, "For Francis, there's something about Mary." But Pope Francis owes an important part of his Marian devotion to the example set by Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose feast day we celebrate Tuesday, Oct. 22

Upon the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) was interviewed by the magazine 30 Days to share memories of the late pontiff. He recounted a time in 1985 when he had attended a public recitation of the Rosary led by Pope John Paul II. There was a large crowd gathered in prayer. "He was in front of everybody, on his knees," Cardinal Bergoglio said. "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.

"In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his pi[e]ty, his devotion was a witness," Cardinal Bergoglio continued. "And the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice ... in the same position in which [he] knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me. I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego: 'Don't be afraid, am I not [...] your mother?' I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope. That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day."

And the world has been witness to the fruits of that Marian prayer.

On April 19, 1998, then-Archbishop Bergoglio welcomed one of the international pilgrim statues of Our Lady of Fatima to Buenos Aires. He ended his homily with the prayer, "Dear Mother! Welcome home! Teach us that Jesus is alive, make us feel Him alive in our midst. Teach us the language of tenderness. Welcome home, Mother! Look at my family! You know what its needs are. Look at our housing district! You know where to go. Look at my heart! You know it better than I. Welcome home! Teach me that Jesus is alive, so that I won't ever think that He is dead to me. Give me strength, Mother! Give me tenderness, so that I may help everybody. Give me peace of heart! Welcome home!"

Upon being elected Pope, Francis twice asked Cardinal Jose Polycarp, the Patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal, to consecrate his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima. Cardinal Polycarp did so at the shrine in Fatima on May 13, 2013. "[W]e consecrate to you, Our Lady, you who are the Mother of the Church, the ministry of the new Pope; please fill his heart with the tenderness of God, which like no one else You Yourself experienced, so that he may embrace all men and women of our time with the love of Your Son Jesus Christ," Cardinal Polycarp prayed.

Note the common element in the Marian prayers of Pope Francis. He has consistently asked Our Lady to fill his heart with the tenderness of God - with God's compassion. That is, he has consistently begged Our Lady to intercede on his behalf for a share in God's Fatherly mercy. Just as in Blessed Pope John Paul II, the Great Mercy Pope, we got to see a man completely consecrated to Mary serving to promote St. Faustina's message from Jesus for the whole world, so now do we see Pope Francis, a man completely in love with and serving Our Lady, speaking everywhere of the mercy of God. On the plane ride back from World Youth Day in Brazil this year, he said:

I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of epoch, also because of many problems of the church - such as the example of some priests who aren't good, also the problems of corruption in the church - and also the problem of clericalism, for example, has left many wounds, many wounds. The Church is a mother: It must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don't have any other path than this one: before anything else, curing the wounds, yes? It's a mother, the Church, and it must go down this path of mercy. It must find mercy for everyone, no? I think about how when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn't say: "But you, listen, sit down. What did you do with the money?" No, he held a party. Then, maybe, when the son wanted to talk, he talked. The Church must do the same. When there's someone ... but, it's not enough to wait for them: We must go and seek them. This is mercy. And I believe that is a kairos: This time is a kairos of mercy. John Paul II had this intuition first, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy ... he had something, he intuited that it was a necessity of this time.

The legacy of John Paul II is alive and well, being lived out and implemented in the pontificate of Pope Francis. Ask Blessed John Paul II's intercession on his feast day for Pope Francis, for the Church, and for the world, that we might all learn from the Great Mercy Pope to give ourselves entirely to Mary and to love and trust Jesus, the Divine Mercy.

Blessed Pope John Paul II is scheduled to be canonized, along with Bl. Pope John XXIII, by Pope Francis on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014. To join the Marians on pilgrimage and attend the canonizations, see here.

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