By Devin Watkins
As per his long-established tradition on the eve of trips abroad, Pope Francis traveled across Rome on Thursday afternoon to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
He paused to pray for a moment before the ancient Roman icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani.
According to the Holy See Press Office, the Pope entrusted his upcoming visit to Iraq to Our Lady’s protection.
He is scheduled to depart Rome on Friday morning for his 33rd Apostolic Visit abroad, which takes him to Iraq on 5-8 March.
Devotion to ancient Roman icon
Pope Francis laid a bouquet of flowers on the altar below the ancient image of the “Salvation of the Roman people”, which is housed in the Borghese chapel.
Tradition holds that it arrived in Rome in the year 590 AD, during the reign of Pope Gregory the Great.
Maria Salus Populi Romani has twice received a canonical coronation.
Pope Gregory XVI crowned the image of Our Lady in 1838, and Pope Pius XII repeated the gesture of devotion during the Marian year of 1954.
The Vatican Museums cleaned and restored it in 2018.