For Teresa Tomeo — a bestselling author and host of Catholic Connection and EWTN’s The Catholic View for Women — these last three popes “have been a consistent witness ... of getting to know the Son of God more intimately through his mother, our mother.”
“Each of them has their particular Marian devotion, and all have a common love of the Rosary and are Rosary promoters,” said Father Donald Calloway of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
Father Calloway, an international speaker and author, made clear that St. John Paul II prayed all the mysteries of the Rosary every day and added the Luminous Mysteries in 2002.
Even though Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a very intellectual theologian, “probably one of the greatest minds that has held the office of St. Peter, he nevertheless also prayed the Rosary every day, at least one set of mysteries, many times walking through the Vatican Gardens,” said Father Calloway of the Holy Father who turned 88 on April 16.
As Pope Benedict said during his Oct. 7, 2012, Angelus, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, “Through the Rosary, we allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, the model of faith, in meditating on the mysteries of Christ. Day after day, she helps us to assimilate the Gospel, so that it gives a form to our life as a whole.”
In 2005, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis well remembered: “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. … In the middle of the prayer, I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope. … His witness struck me. … I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope. That testimony did not get forgotten. … From that time on, I recite the 15 mysteries of the Rosary every day.”
All three popes have visited the world’s most famous shrine on the Rosary — Our Lady of Pompeii in Italy. “They’re really trying to tell us something about the importance of the Rosary,” said Father Calloway.
As St. John Paul II stated in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Most Holy Rosary): “The Rosary is my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer! … The simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life.”
And when visiting Fatima on May 13, 1982, he said in his homily: “The Rosary prayer embraces the problems of the Church, of the See of St. Peter, the problems of the whole world.”
Models to Follow
Many people have been inspired to pray the family Rosary at home by the Holy Fathers’ example.
Dallas mother Elizabeth Desiderato said she started praying the Rosary when she became a mother. She and her husband, Mark, have an 8-year-old son, Augustin.
“We pray the Rosary in the car every day on audio,” she said, using the time as a chance to explain the different mysteries to her son.
The Rosary has become such a part of this mother’s life that, “now, if I don’t pray it on a daily basis I feel something missing,” said Disiderato, who is a regular contributor to CatholicMom.com. The Rosary “really does keep you close to Jesus, and it led me back to the Bible.”
The biblical connection to Mary is important for Benedict XVI, too. “Pope Benedict has a very biblical love for Our Lady,” said Father Calloway. “He sees Our Lady as the New Eve, the daughter of Zion.”
While author Carl Olson was still an evangelical Protestant and before he converted during the papacy of St. John Paul II, one of two books that helped him the most was on this very insight from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Benedict XVI, in Daughter of Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Belief.
“It was so beautiful in explaining Mary in the context of the Old Testament and how she fulfills the ideal of the daughter of Zion and how Mary in her person gives herself to God completely in her fiat,” said Olson, the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com and Catholic World Report.
In addition, Father Calloway said that the example of the three popes’ travels shows that “they love to visit Marian shrines.”
He noted the great love John Paul II had for Our Lady of Fatima. As pope, he last traveled there on May 13, 2000, to thank her for saving him from a 1981 assassination attempt.
Benedict also traveled there. And Francis had his pontificate consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima.
John Paul II also had particular devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa, for whom he had great love. Father Calloway said he shares this devotion.
Teresa Tomeo believes papal example is important, whatever the devotion: “Their frequent writings about Marian teachings over the years, their references in audience messages and daily homilies regarding calling on the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and all of their prayers in front of or at various Marian shrines, have given me and other Catholics, as well as Christians in general, a much better understanding of the communion of saints and the great cloud of witnesses available to us — with our Blessed Mother leading the way.”
Present Pope’s Devotions
Father Calloway pointed out other particular Marian devotions Pope Francis has, such as his visits to a Marian basilica in Rome: “Almost every time before he travels, he goes to pray to Our Lady and place roses before her image. Almost every time he returns from a trip, he does the same thing.”
The Marian image he venerates in the Basilica of St. Mary Major is the Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People). The day after being elected, Pope Francis made a private visit there, and he has returned many times since.
Francis also has a strong devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, that began after he was intensely moved by an image of our Blessed Mother under this title when studying in Bavaria as Father Bergoglio. He brought the image — from an early 18th-century painting — back to Argentina and promoted the devotion to Mary under this title. In 2005, he gave Pope Benedict XVI, who is from Bavaria, a chalice engraved with this image.
“When I found out Pope Francis has a devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, it made me smile,” said Desiderato. “To have a pope who has a devotion is nice reinforcement. It makes it more meaningful when you know — Wow! Pope Francis prays to Mary like I do.”
Mary the Mediatrix
The papal examples extend to personal prayer for those with whom the Register spoke.
Desiderato enjoys praying with her son in their parish’s Marian chapel or at home before the family’s statues of the Blessed Mother. And as a catechist, she offers an example of another Marian devotion by showing the children the Miraculous Medal she wears and giving them a medal in order to make the devotion more real for them.
As Byzantine-rite Catholics, Olson and his wife, Heather, have family prayer every evening with their three children, ages 7, 10 and 14, with one prayer specifically addressed to Mary.
In addition, the strong Marian dimension in the Divine Liturgy at their parish “always reminds me Mary is so actively involved in our prayer life and participating in the intercessory work of her Son,” he said. “This is her passion: to serve her Son, her Lord, Our Lord, through being a mediatrix.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.