CAGLIARI, Italy — Father Giovannino Tolu said his heart began racing when he heard that Pope Francis will visit the shrine he oversees on the Italian island of Sardinia, making it the fourth time he has received a pope.
Pope Francis announced at the end of his May 15 general audience that he will travel to the city of Cagliari in September to venerate Our Lady of Bonaria at the basilica of the same name.
“Can’t you hear my heart going tick, tick, tick?” Father Tolu, the basilica’s pastor, asked in reaction to the Pope’s declaration.
“We still don’t know yet if Pope Francis will be here one day or if he will be here several days, because we just found out yesterday about this,” Father Tolu said.
But regardless of how long the Pope stays, Father Tolu said, “I feel my heart has accelerated; we have the joy of already having had three popes here.”
Pope Paul VI visited the shrine in 1970; Blessed John Paul II came in 1985; and Pope Benedict XVI traveled there in 2008.
“The shrine has a special tie to this Pope because he is from Argentina,” the priest explained.
The link between the two places a world apart is that the city of Buenos Aires is named after Our Lady of Bonaria.
The city’s Spanish founder, Pedro de Mendoza, wanted to name the area “City of the Most Holy Trinity,” but Sardinian sailors, who knew of the special devotion to Mary, wanted to name the city after her.
They then agreed to call the city “City of the Most Holy Trinity and Port of Our Lady of Bonaria.”
But because the name was so long, it was eventually shortened to “Bonaria,” which is translated into Spanish as Buenos Aires, (good air).
“Our basilica here is an old sanctuary from the time of the Spanish soldiers who came here and built a small church for the soldiers,” said Father Tolu.
“But in 1704, they felt the need to expand the basilica, and there is a lot of devotion here,” he added.
Father Tolu revealed that the connection between the city and the basilica will soon be further strengthened by a small, blessed replica of the Madonna that measures around four feet and which will be sent to Buenos Aires on July 1.
The devotion to Our Lady of Bonaria originated in 1370, when a violent storm began to strip all of the equipment from a Spanish sailing vessel.
But when a heavy wooden chest fell overboard and hit the water, the sea suddenly calmed.
The box was found on the shore at the Port of Bonaria by some friars, who discovered a locust-wood statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus in her left arm and a lit candle in her right hand.
Devotion to the Madonna soon took root among the island’s inhabitants and especially among the sailors, who looked to her for protection.