By Richard Marsden
The Popewas welcomed to the shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love (Madonna del Divino Amore) by the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, the auxiliary bishop for the southern sector, Bishop Paolo Lujudice, along with the sanctuary's director, and the current parish priest. The welcome party also included the representatives of the Sons and Daughters of Our Lady of Divine Love based at the shrine.
After reciting the rosary before the medieval icon of the Madonna and Child, the Pontiff blessed the tomb of Servant of God, Father Umberto Terenzi, the first rector of the Divino Amore parish and the founder of two religious orders. He then met with elderly parishioners who were baptised by Father Terenzi, the priest who founded the parish on the site of the sanctuary, which lies on the Via Ardeatina, 12km to the south of Rome.
Pope Francis also greeted residents of both the Divino Amore retirement home and the Family House of Mater Divini Amoris, which is run by the Congregation of the Sons of Divine Love and provides shelter for children and infants.
The Shrine's history
Our Lady of Divine Love shrine originated with a medieval fresco which adorned one of the towers of a 13th-century gatehouse called Castel di Leva.
The icon was popular with local shepherds who met there to pray the rosary. According to tradition, a pilgrim on his way to St Peter’s Basilica in 1740 was attacked by angry dogs at the gatehouse and was saved through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
As a result, the numbers of pilgrims to the site increased and the icon was moved to a new chapel built next to the gatehouse.
The shrine became doubly significant for Romans during the Second World War when Pope Pius XII, joined by several thousand citizens, prayed before the fresco for the protection of Rome during the final battle for the city in 1944 which led to its liberation from German occupation.
A few days after the Allied entry into the city, Pius XII gave the image the title Salvatrice dell’Urbe, meaning "She who saves the city".