Mary the Savior of the People of Rome?

If you heard it, you probably could not believe your ears! Did he really say that? Yes he did. He said it twice. Amazing! What am I talking about? The funeral for Pope John Paul II. Towards the end of the service, after communion, Cardinal Ratzinger was speaking as I recall. Twice in less than a minute I heard the Catholic translator (Archbishop John P. Foley, President, Pontifical Council for Social Communications) on MSNBC say in his translation that Mary was Savior of the Roman people, or Mary was Savior of the people of Rome. (MSNBC transcript) Here is the actual wording of the Cardinal's remarks from the Vatican web site:



Detta l’orazione dopo la Comunione, il Cardinale Decano del Collegio Cardinalizio compie il rito dell’ultima raccomandazione e del commiato. Stando presso il feretro con gli altri concelebranti, invita i presenti alla preghiera con queste parole:

Fratres sororesque carissimi, dulcissimæ Dei misericordiæ commendemus animam Papæ nostri Ioannis Pauli, qui, Ecclesiæ catholicæ Episcopus, fratres in fide resurrectionis confirmavit.

Pro defuncto Pontifice Deum Patrem deprecem ur per Iesum Christum in Spiritu Sancto, ut eum, a morte redemptum, in pacem suam assumat, et corpus eius resuscitet in novissimo die.

Beata Virgo Maria, apostolorum Regina et Salus populi Romani, apud Deum intercedat ut vultum Filii sui benedicti Papæ nostro ostendat atque Ecclesiam luce resurrectionis eius consoletur.

Fratelli e sorelle carissimi, affidiamo alla soavissima misericordia di Dio l’anima del nostro Papa Giovanni Paolo, Vescovo della Chiesa cattolica, che confermò i fratelli nella fede della risurrezione.

Preghiamo Dio Padre per Gesù Cristo nello Spirito Santo per il Pontefice defunto, perché, riscattato dalla morte, sia accolto nella sua pace e il suo corpo risusciti nell’ultimo giorno.

La beata Vergine Maria, Regina degli Apostoli e Salvezza del popolo romano, interceda presso Dio perché mostri il volto del Figlio suo benedetto al nostro Papa e consoli la Chiesa con la luce della risurrezione.

Tutti pregano per qualche tempo in silenzio.


Il Cardinale Vicario per la Diocesi di Roma si reca presso il feretro.
I cantori cantano le
Litanie dei Santi e tutti rispondono alle invocazioni.

   Invocazione dei Santi

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro eo
Sancta Maria, Mater Ecclesiæ, ora pro eo
Sancta Maria, Salus populi Romani, ora pro eo ...


In that first section of text, there are 3 sentences of a prayer in Latin that are then repeated in Italian.

Here is the translation as posted on the EWTN website:

Final Commendation and Farewell

Following the prayer after Communion, the Dean of the College of Cardinals performs the rite of the final commendation and farewell. Standing next to the coffin with the other concelebrants, he invites those present to pray with these words:

Dear brothers and sisters, we entrust to the most gentle mercy of God the soul of our Pope John Paul, Bishop of the Catholic Church, who confirmed his brothers with belief in the resurrection.

We pray to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit for the deceased, so that, ransomed by death, he may be received in his peace and that his body may rise on the last day.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles and savior of the people of Rome, intercede to God for us so that the face of his blessed Son may be shown to our Pope and comfort the Church with the light of the resurrection.

All pray in a moment of silence.

In the prayer that followed, invoking the Saints for the Pope, the first three sentences are:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for him
Holy Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for him
Holy Mary, Savior of the People of Rome, pray for him ...

The key to really understanding what was referred to is the Latin phrase Salus populi Romani.

Salus Populi Romani

    In the church of St. Mary Maggiore, in Rome, there is a celebrated picture of the Virgin Mary, [Salus Populi Romani - Savior of the People of Rome] invested with perpetual power to work miracles.   This picture was carried in procession through the Eternal City to remove the cholera; and Gregory XVI., the immediate predecessor of Pius IX., walked barefooted with the idolatrous throng who, forgetting God in their day of calamity, appealed to the wonder-working picture of a woman.
    In Catholic countries image-worship is universal, and whatever theoretical distinctions are made between latria, hyperdulia and dulia, the great body of worshippers know no difference between the worship of an image and the worship of God.

Source: The Papal System: From Its Origin to the Present Time, by William Cathcart, D.D., published in 1872 by Menace Publishing Company, Aurora, Mo., pg. 335.

This icon was allegedly painted by none other than St. Luke, and it is also claimed that it was carried in procession by Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) to stem a plague that was afflicting the people of Rome.

Salus Populi Romani
Our Lady of the Snows
Salus Publica Populi Romani - the Roman goddess.

Pope John Paul II regularly visited the icon Salus Populi Romani at St. Mary Major on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

18. It is therefore, a pleasure for us, a full century having passed since the Pontiff of immortal memory, Pius IX, solemnly proclaimed this singular privilege of the Virgin Mother of God, to summarize the whole doctrinal position and conclude in these words of the same Pontiff, asserting that this doctrine "vouched for in Sacred Scripture according to the interpretation of the Fathers, is handed down by them in so many of their important writings, is expressed and celebrated in so many illustrious monuments of renowned antiquity, and proposed and confirmed by the greatest and highest decision of the Church" (Bull Ineffabilis Deus), so that to pastors and faithful there is nothing "more sweet, nothing dearer than to worship, venerate, invoke and praise with ardent affection the Mother of God conceived without stain of original sin. (Ibidem.)

33. But where - as is the case in almost all dioceses, there exists a church in which the Virgin Mother of God is worshipped with more intense devotion, thither on stated days let pilgrims flock together in great numbers and publicly and in the open give glorious expression to their common Faith and their common love toward the Virgin Most Holy. ...

34. But let this holy city of Rome be the first to give the example, this city which from the earliest Christian era worshipped the heavenly mother, its patroness, with a special devotion. As all know, there are many sacred edifices here, in which she is proposed for the devotion of the Roman people; but the greatest without doubt is the Liberian Basilica [St. Mary Major], in which the mosaics of Our predecessor of pious memory, Sixtus III, still glisten, an outstanding monument to the Divine maternity of the Virgin Mary, and in which the "salvation of the Roman people" (Salus Populi Romani) benignly smiles.

Source: FULGENS CORONA, Encyclical Of Pope PIUS XII, September 8th, 1953.

Other documents on the Vatican web site that refer to Mary as the Salvation of the Roman people:

Angelus - 29 Jun, 1998
Address  - 13 Feb, 1999
Regina Coeli - 29 May, 2000
Angelus - 29 Jun, 2000
Speech - 5 Aug, 2000
Address - 13 Jan, 2002
Address - 8 Mar, 2002
Angelus - 29 Jun, 2002
Prayer - Dec 8, 2002
Homily - 31 Dec, 2002

So in their time of distress the Catholics trusted not in God, but in the veneration of an icon of Mary, in the hope that this would persuade the Blessed Virgin Mary to intervene and protect them from disaster.

Why Mary and not God?

Historically Catholics have viewed Christ as an unapproachable and stern judge, quick to exact punishment on sinners with His wrath and chastisements, who can only be appeased by the intercession and pleas of His merciful and loving mother. When Jesus will not hear your prayers, Mary will, and God will not refuse His mother. So the way to God and salvation, Catholics are taught, is though Mary.

Salvation is obtained from... Mary?