(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon visited the Basilica of St. Mary
Major in Rome where he prayed in silence before the image of the Madonna Salus Populi
The private visit, which was not scheduled according to the Pope's official activity agenda, was witnessed and greeted with joy and surprise by the many faithful who were in the Basilica at the time.
As he has already done during the past nine months of his Papacy - the first time on the morning following his election as Pope, and the second before travelling to Brazil to celebrate World Youth Day - Pope Frances spent time in silent prayer in the chapel where the image of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani is displayed.
Today is the liturgical Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and during his homily at Mass this morning, Pope Francis had explicitly made mention of this Basilica and of this particular Marian icon with the words "The truth of [Mary's] divine maternity found an echo in Rome where, a little later, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major was built, the first Marian shrine in Rome and in the entire West, in which the image of the Mother of God – the Theotokos – is venerated under the title of Salus Populi Romani".