Pope Francis’ first stop on his return to Rome today was St. Mary Major.
After an event-packed trip to Cyprus and Greece — the 35th apostolic journey of his Pontificate –, one might expect he would simply want to put his feet up and take a nap. But as he always does before and after a trip, he stopped for prayer before Our Lady’s image. Before a trip it is a prayer for a safe and fruitful trip; on the return, it is to express a prayer of gratitude.
This afternoon, on his return from his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece, Pope Francis stopped in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and, turning his thoughts to the many encounters, faces, and painful stories he met in recent days, he entrusted them to the Virgin Salus Populi Romani, in front of whose icon he stopped to pray, reported the Vatican Press Office.
Pope Francis’ trip has been a significant one for Greeks, who saw the Pope’s visit as a message for Christian unity for a country with a Catholic minority and an Orthodox majority, according to Vatican News. The Pope met with a delegation from the Greek Orthodox Church, in which he recalled the metaphor of the age-old olive trees present in Greece, comparing their deep and sustaining roots to the shared, apostolic roots of Christianity which have endured over the centuries.
He also met privately with the Orthodox Primate, Hieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, who paid him a courtesy visit at the Apostolic Nunciature on the eve of his departure back to Rome.
Upon returning to Italy, the Bishop of Rome sent a telegram to the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, which reads: “Back in Italy, at the end of my apostolic trip to Cyprus and Greece, during which I had the opportunity to encourage the promotion of dialogue, the consolidation of democracy and integration among peoples, I am pleased to address you, Mr. President, and the Italian people a respectful greeting, which I accompany with cordial wishes of peace and good for all the nation”.
According to Vatican News, the response of the Italian Head of State to the Pontiff has been: “By putting the promotion and defense of human dignity at the center of his magisterium – and of his preaching during this pastoral visit – His Holiness offers a tireless encouragement to reinforce dialogue, cohesion and harmony, essential elements for the truly humane development of the Mediterranean countries ”.
“While waiting to have the pleasure of meeting again in a few days in the Vatican, I renew the feelings of affection and closeness of the Italian people,” he added.