2021.05.30 basilica marsiglia - Notre Dame de la Garde 2021.05.30 basilica marsiglia - Notre Dame de la Garde 

Marseille prays novena ahead of Pope’s visit for Mediterranean Meetings

Catholics in the French city of Marseille begin a novena to ask Our Lady to watch over the upcoming Mediterranean Meetings, which Pope Francis will conclude on 23 September.

By Delphine Allaire

A nine-day devotion was launched in Marseille on Friday, 8 September, to pray for peace in the Mediterranean as the French Archdiocese prepares to welcome Pope Francis on 22-23 September.

The novena began on the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, a feast shared by the Eastern and Western Churches, ahead of the Mediterranean Meetings "Méditerranée, mosaïque d'espérance".

Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille, celebrated Mass in Marseille's Sainte-Marie-Majeure Cathedral, in the presence of the city's mayor.

In his homily on Friday, the Cardinal urged the faithful to “put ourselves at the service of all, so that on the fault lines that are today cracking the Mediterranean space, and which affect so many people, the poor, the underprivileged or migrants, we help to make the smile of fraternity blossom on the coldness of the world.”

The novena of preparation will conclude with a torchlight procession and a Marian prayer at Notre-Dame de la Garde on Saturday, 16 September, opening the week of the Mediterranean Meetings.

Nazareth, Harissa, Malta and Lampedusa in communion

In an interview with Vatican News, the rector of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, Father Olivier Spinosa, spoke about the goals of the novena.

"This novena is a request to the Holy Spirit to ensure that these Meetings can truly bear all their spiritual fruit. We often think of material preparation, forgetting the preparation of minds and hearts, which must be made available,” he said.

The meeting will see 70 bishops and 70 young people participated from the five shores of the Mediterranean, and will be concluded by Pope Francis on 23 September at the Palais du Pharo.

In the runup to the event, organizers are seeking to highlight the Marian devotion practiced in every corner of the Mediterranean basin.

Each day, a sanctuary is associated with the prayer: from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth to Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, Our Lady of Africa in Algiers, Our Lady of Porto Salvo in Lampedusa, not forgetting Our Lady of Good Counsel in Albania or the Ta'Pinu de Gharb sanctuary in Malta, visited by the Pope in April 2022.

Sanctuaries: a discreet presence

The current spiritual challenge is to contribute "to this civilization of love, which must be expressed in a particular way in the Mediterranean", observes Fr. Spinosa, emphasizing the particularity of the Marian sanctuaries bordering this sea. They are the sign of a certain "conviviality, hospitality and mutual understanding".

"The sanctuaries of the Mediterranean are places where people of different faiths very often entrust themselves to the Virgin Mary, to recharge their batteries and gain perspective on their existence," he noted.

An exhibition on this theme, entitled "Ave Maria-A Pilgrimage in the Mediterranean", will be on display at the Notre-Dame de la Garde museum from 16 September until January 2024.

The Marian sanctuaries reflect "the availability of the heart, listening to God's will", through this discreet Marian presence at the events of Christ's life, added Fr. Spinosa, for whom sanctuaries have precisely "this role of discreet presence, listening and prayer".

"Peace will come to the Mediterranean if we trust in God's action," he said.

A strong, outward-looking, local identity

Open to everyone's distress, overlooking the sea, Notre Dame "guards" Marseille.

Built on a hill 160 meters above sea level, the sanctuary has the singularity of being both a very local place, welcoming the devotion of the people of Marseille to the one they like to call the "Good Mother", since the time of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and a universal place.

This latter aspect has been tangible since the 18th century, when missionaries prayed here before setting sail for the furthest corners of the globe.

Fr. Spinosa, who will welcome Pope Francis to Notre-Dame de la Garde on 22 September for a Marian prayer for sailors and migrants who have died at sea - the sanctuary's other apostolate - is convinced that the Virgin Mary will "guard" these Mediterranean Encounters.

"We need to be guarded from everything that dehumanizes us, from everything that prevents us from loving God and our brothers and sisters. Protection doesn't mean that nothing should happen to us, but rather that, in the midst of crises, we are guarded, protected and confirmed in the faith. With extreme congruence," said Fr. Spinosa. "This is precisely what Peter's successor comes to do. To confirm us in our faith and in our desire to be attentive to every human being."


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12 September 2023, 11:24