By Emanuela Campanile – Vatican City
The amphitheater of the Biella Alps in Piedmont surrounds the Oropa Sanctuary, dedicated to the Black Madonna at an altitude of almost 1,200 meters. Built over the course of centuries, the buildings that compose it are majestic, but they all start from a single heart, the small Ancient Basilica. And it is there that the Black Madonna is kept, whose coronation has been celebrated every 100 years, since 1620, on the last Sunday of August. The event was supposed to be repeated for the fifth time, last year in 2020, but due to the pandemic, the event was postponed a year later to today. On Sunday morning, the papal legate Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated Holy Mass to mark the occasion.
Recognition and commitment
The act of coronation has deep roots in the history and faith of the people of Biella, who made a vow to the Virgin in order to be saved from the plague of 1599. "The traditional solemn renewal every 100 years of the coronation of the statue of Our Lady of Oropa”, Cardinal Re explained in his homily, “is an expression of our filial and sincere affection towards the Mother of God and our Mother, placing ourselves with new and intense trust in her hands, today as back then." At the same time, the coronation represents each person's desire to "put order" in his or her life, "giving God first place," and "walking under His paternal gaze on the path of the Ten Commandments."
Entrust ourselves to the Virgin and start again together
From the natural similarity between the request for help born from the hearts of the people of Biella four centuries ago, and the prayer that today rose chorally from the Shrine, Cardinal Re's renewed the invitation to go to the Mother of God to find support and courage. At the same time, he said there is an urgent and dutiful need to "start anew together," in order to overcome "the grave crisis that grips us." Such a path can only be accomplished through "a profound return to Christian life" and "a coherent witness." The fruit of this course, Cardinal Re continued, is "the beginning of a genuine spiritual renewal" that leads "to a growth in fraternity, solidarity and mutual aid."
Mary's motherhood is born at the foot of the cross
Commenting then on the Gospel of the day, in which the words that Jesus addresses to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John from the Cross are reported, Cardinal Re underscored the sense of why Christ "entrusts John to Our Lady, before entrusting Our Lady to the Apostle John"… As he is about to take his last breath, the first thought of the dying Jesus was not for His mother, but for humanity, which needs the protection of a mother. For He said first: ‘Woman, behold your son.’ With these words, Christ gives the Blessed Virgin Mary a new motherhood, which extends from St John to all believers, "opening His mother's heart to a dimension of love that embraces all men and women". Christ has therefore "given us Himself in the Eucharist" and "Our Lady as [our] mother."
Authentic devotion to Mary, Cardinal Re continued, leads to Christ, "from whom comes every gift and every greatness." The mission of the Virgin Mary is therefore "to offer Christ to humanity and to lead every man and woman to God."
Learning the faith and walking in the ways of the Gospel
Asking through the intercession of the Virgin Mary to be able to walk in the ways of the Gospel, "to discover God's will for us" and to find peace in it, Cardinal Re stressed that the Oropa Sanctuary is also a place of reconciliation where many go for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
At the conclusion of his homily, Cardinal Re chose to read a passage from St Bernard's Homily II, Super Missam est, words as strong as Mary’s faith and as fragrant as hope.
The religious act of the coronation
Following the Mass, and after hearing the Angelus led by Pope Francis, the coronation of the statue took place in the shrine dedicated to the Black Madonna. Those present entrusted their requests and invocations to Our Lady, starting with the Marian prayer Sub tuum praesidium ("We fly to Thy protection"), whose origins go back the end of the third century.