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Wednesday, 8 May 2002


Dear Concelebrants,
Distinguished Authorities,
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

For 2,000 years the Church has addressed the Blessed Virgin Mary with the inspired words of the Angel Gabriel: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" (cf. Lk 1,26).

This is the greeting which all of us coming here from all over Italy wish to direct to the Mother of the Lord: "Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum!".

Luke the Evangelist told us that on hearing these words the humble Virgin of Nazareth was troubled and wondered what they could mean. In her heavenly glory, the Mother of Christ is now fully aware of the meaning of this cry of admiration that the Church raises to her from every corner of the earth.

It is the testimony of the redeemed who know well what marvels of grace the Almighty has worked in her and through her in the world.

The meaning of the feast

1. Today, I came on pilgrimage to this famous Shrine of Pompei, to celebrate the glories of Mary with you and to implore her motherly protection upon the whole Church and the whole world. The Holy Father also joins in our prayer, raising in Rome his fervent prayer to Our Lady, venerated here with the beautiful name of Our Lady of the Rosary and Queen of Victories. When he visited this shrine on 21 October 1979, he said to those present: "I have come to this shrine in the spirit of fervent and humble pilgrimage, to venerate the Blessed Virgin and fulfil my secret vow of devotion, gratitude and love" (Address in the Basilica of Our Lady of Pompei, 21 October, 1979; ORE, 3 December 1979, p. 4). John Paul II, as he began his Pontificate, put himself in Our Lady's footsteps and came here to find light and comfort for his apostolic mission.

Today we feel his presence with us, and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, beg the Lord to give him her greatest graces. We rejoice that he expressed the desire to return to this Shrine [on Sunday 6 May during the visit to Ischia]. Let us entrust his state of health and his tireless apostolic ministry to "Our Lady of Victories".

Mary's victory

2. I would like to reflect briefly on this title, "Our Lady of Victories", that is the central idea of the prayer that we will shortly recite.

This was the Marian title that was particularly loved by the founder of this oasis of prayer, Bl. Bartolo Longo. It is a name that recalled the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, established by Pope St Pius V after the victory of Lepanto in 1571. On the occasion of that famous battle, the Christian community experienced the special protection of the Mother of God, and invoked her as "Help of Christians".

The great founder of this shrine saw in the devotion of the Holy Rosary a powerful weapon of victory for Christians today.

For more than a century, Bartolo Longo's message has echoed in our midst. Yes, even today, in all the difficulties of the present time, we can address Mary as "Our Lady of Victories", if we see the deeper meaning of the title.

Victory of Christians

3. Indeed, beyond external conflicts, the war between good and evil is always being waged in the world, and is fought in the first place within each one of us. The struggle goes back to the dawn of humanity when God's plan was upset and a gaping wound was opened in human nature that only Christ's Redemption could heal.

The theme of victory fits into the drama of the fall and redemption. Certainly in the first place, the victor is Christ who gave us those words of ongoing comfort:  "I have overcome the world" (Jn 16,33).

Then, in union with Christ, every disciple can repeat what the Apostle John wrote:  "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith" (1 Jn 5,4).

Of course, evil exists in the world, inside and outside of us; but it is certain that the victory over evil is within our reach if we believe in the Lord.

With this Christological background, the Marian title so beloved by Bl. Bartolo Longo acquires its full meaning.

Mary is indeed "Our Lady of Victories", for, with her motherly intercession, she helps us to win our daily battles against evil for she shows us the tenderness that only a mother can show to her children.

The secret of victory

4. By her example, the Blessed Virgin Mary teaches us the path of victory. The Gospel of the Annunciation that we heard describes to us the secret of every Christian life:  obedience to the will of God. To the Angel, the Virgin of Nazareth spoke the words that signal the dawn of our redemption:  "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word".

Mary's "Let it be to me"rendered to God the obedience that Eve had denied him and signaled the beginning of salvation. A similar "let it be to me" opens for every Christian the doors of grace.
Thus Mary becomes for each one of us the One who teaches us the way of victory,namely, the path of total abandonment to God's will.

A weapon of victory

5. Brothers and sisters, dear pilgrims!

Gathered round the gentle person of Our Lady of Pompei, let us resolve to call on her every day for our needs and the needs of the world.

We are surrounded by a society that needs more than ever the light of the Gospel. Our world is seeking peace. There are so many sufferings that cry out for help. There is such a great longing for justice and charity!

We wish to entrust our hopes to Mary's motherly intercession. With the repetition of the prayers of the Rosary, we will turn to Mary with the insistent, trusting prayer of a child to his mother.

In this way the Rosary will become a weapon of victory, an effective weapon, to which Christ's promise applies very well: "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Lk 11,9).

This is the message that we would like to take away from the celebration of this beautiful Marian feast in this famous shrine, that the Holy Lawyer, glory of the Church of Naples, built in the last century to honour Mary. In the past, Pompei was known as the city that was destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 AD. Today Pompei has become the city of life, because it has become the city of Mary.

For this reason, dear friends of Pompei, I would like to leave you with a fraternal invitation to continue to work together, pastors, faithful, men and women religious, men and women of faith who belong to the various associations and ecclesial movements. Work to make this shrine, the glory of your land, flourish even more so that it may reach out to Italy and to the world with the message of Christian hope. Amen.