Pope Francis privately visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning to pray and entrust to the Virgin Mary his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
After 15 minutes of meditation and prayer before the image of Mary known as Salus Populi Romani, Pope Francis offered a bouquet of white and yellow roses at the feet of the Virgin.
Since the beginning of his papal ministry in March 2013, this is the eighth visit Pope Francis has made to the Virgin Mary, under whose protection he has placed his pontificate.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, the archpriest of the basilica, Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, explained that Pope Francis sees Mary as a maternal guide and inspiration for his actions.
Pope Francis will travel to the Holy Land May 24-26. He will visit Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist was baptizing. He will also travel to Palestine to visit Bethlehem.
In Jerusalem, he will visit the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, the Church of Gethsemane and the Cenacle (Upper Room).
The Pope will address refugees and the physically disabled on his trip. He will meet with Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, the Sunni cleric entrusted with the city's Muslim holy places, as well as Jerusalem's chief rabbis.
He will also meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox archbishop of Constantinople; the two will sign a joint declaration, after which there will be a public ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.