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Pope Francis visits Marian basilica, talks by phone with Benedict XVI

Catholic World News - March 14, 2013

On the morning after his election, Pope Francis quietly left the Vatican to pray at the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major.

The newly elected Pontiff had spoken to his predecessor, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, by telephone in the evening after his election on March 13. A Vatican spokesman said that it was a “very warm” conversation. Pope Francis is expected to have a face-to-face meeting with his predecessor soon.

On Wednesday evening, after giving his blessing to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis concluded his first public appearance by saying: “Tomorrow I am going to pray to the Virgin, for the safekeeping of all of Rome.” He fulfilled that promise in an unexpected fashion, leaving the Vatican without prior notice in a plain sedan, giving officials at St. Mary Major just 10 minutes to prepare for his arrival.

At Rome’s oldest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Pope prayed silently for about 10 minutes and left a bouquet before the icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani (“Protector of the People of Rome). He then made short visits to pray at two other significant sites within St. Mary Major: the basilica’s Sistine Chapel, where St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, celebrated his first Mass after ordination in 1538; and the tomb of St. Pius V, the great reforming Pontiff of the 16th century who battled corruption at the Vatican in the years after the Council of Trent.

On his return trip to the Vatican, the new Pope clearly demonstrated his commitment to simplicity by stopping at the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, where he had been staying before the conclave, to pick up his luggage and pay his bill.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan revealed to reporters that Pope Francis had demonstrated the same humble approach hours earlier, after his appearance in St. Peter’s Square, by joining cardinals on the bus that took them back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where they stayed during the conclave. The cardinals expected the Pontiff to arrive there separately in his own car, Cardinal Dolan said, “and as the last bus pulls up, guess who gets off the bus? Pope Francis.”

Cardinal Dolan told reporters that Pope Francis planned to travel to Castel Gandolfo on Thursday to meet with Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. Vatican officials later said that a firm date had not been set for the meeting, but it would take place soon.

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