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Mary in Rome

Marian shrines around the globe—from the tranquil sanctuaries in Lourdes and Fatima to the colorful celebrations at Villa de Guadalupe in Mexico City and onto the historic paths of Loreto—draw millions of pilgrims each year, searching for peace and healing. But there's one city that transcends them all: Rome. The Eternal City is not just the cradle of Christianity; it's a place with the largest number of Marian apparitions.

Strolling through Rome, one can quickly see how much the city loves Our Lady. Almost every street corner has a picture or statue of the Madonna, known here as 'Madonnine.'

Rome stands at the heart of Marian devotion, linked with the four pillars of Marian belief: the Theotokos or Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, and the Assumption.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major is a powerful testament to the first Marian Dogma, the Theotokos, declared at the Council of Ephesus and the visual proof of one of the earliest Marian apparitions. Tradition holds that Our Lady appeared in a dream to Pope Liberius, directing him to build a church on a hill that would be miraculously covered in snow. True to her word, snow fell on Esquiline Hill in August, Rome's hottest month.  

While the story of Pope Liberius and the snow-covered hill is wrapped in the mists of the 4th century, another Roman church, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, is at the heart of more recent and well-documented Marian Apparitions. This event played a crucial role in inspiring Blessed Pope Pius IX to declare the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.

In 1842, Our Lady appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne, who was born into a Jewish family, had turned away from all religious faiths, and was a member of the Freemasons. After this apparition, Alphonse Ratisbonne not only converted to the Catholic faith but also became a priest.

Father Alfonso Longobardi, the current assistant parish priest of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, continues to share this extraordinary story with visitors from around the world. "This apparition," he says, "gives the Church a boost regarding the millennial reflection on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It is no coincidence that 12 years after this apparition, we have the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Immediately after the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, here in the square, a few steps from the Basilica, the column of the Immaculate Conception is built. The Immaculata that is placed on the column is not the classic Immaculata with open hands and open arms, but it is the Immaculata of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte. There is a finger that points the way to the Church. And every year, on December 8, the Pope, for this reason, comes to visit this statue."

In a twist of fate, Our Lady made another appearance in Rome to someone completely unexpected — a man distant from the Catholic Church, who was plotting to assassinate the Pope and was crafting a speech to denounce the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Fr. Joseph Roesch, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Marian Fathers — a congregation deeply devoted to the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception — shares this story:

"There was a man named Bruno just after the Second World War. He had three children. He had left the Catholic faith and become a Protestant, and he was not leading a good life by any stretch. He had affairs. He was a man who was always cursing and blaspheming and doing all kinds of stuff. And then he was even against the faith, so he was planning one day, it was a Saturday, right after Easter. And he brought his three children to this little park. They were supposed to try to get a train or a bus to Ostia, which is a place by the water. But he couldn't get there. So he ended up at this spot right across from Tre Fontane. And there was a little park-like area. He was going to have a little picnic with his children, so he had a Bible with him, but he was going to give a talk the next day to denounce the Immaculate Conception. He was against the Catholic faith; he was against Our Lady in a special way. There was an image of Our Lady that said 'Virgin Mary,' and he wrote about that little thing. 'You are not a virgin nor a mother.' He also had plans to assassinate Pope Pius XII.

"His little children ended up going into a grotto at that place. Our Lady appeared there. He eventually ended up seeing Our Lady and he was taken aback by what he saw and to make a long story short, he ended up changing his life and no longer persecuting the faith."

April 12 is a day marked in history for the Marian apparition at Tre Fontane in Rome. The miraculous event took place inside of the grotto, where Our Lady revealed herself to Bruno. Today, the Missionaries of Divine Revelation, a community of sisters, honor this legacy and keep the message of Our Lady alive.

Sister Rebecca is the Mother Superior of the Missionaries of Divine Revelation. Speaking about the apparition site, she says, "This place is a place of great conversion, a call to the truth of the Catholic Church. The Virgin Mary states that the true Church of her Son is based on three white loves:  love for the Eucharist, love for the Immaculate Conception, and love for the Holy Father. These are the founding elements of the Catholic Church; in this way, Bruno was outside the Catholic Church, and the Virgin called him in."

Our Lady gave a heavenly sign to Pope Pius XII through Bruno Cornacchiola, the Pope was asking for confirmation on how to clearly define the Dogma of the Assumption in light of his encyclical issued November 1, 1950.

Sister Emanuela Edwards, a member of the Missionaries of Divine Revelation, explains that, "Our Lady told Bruno, 'My body could not decay and did not decay, my Son and the angels took me to heaven,' and so this, just as in Lourdes there is the link with the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, at Tre Fontane in Rome there is a link with the Dogma of the Assumption."

Bruno didn't keep this divine message to himself; he brought it directly to the Vatican. In an audience with Pope Pius XII, he asked forgiveness for his past animosity towards the Catholic Church.

A lesser-known Marian manifestation took place within the serene Vatican Gardens, involving Pope Pius XII himself. The late Fr. Peter Gumpel, the postulator for Pope Pius XII's cause, revealed in a 2017 interview with EWTN that the Pope experienced the miracle of the sun.

"As he was walking in the garden," Fr. Gumpel explained, "in the Vatican Gardens, in obedience to what the doctors told him, that he needed movement on account of the problems he had with digestion, etc. He saw, looking up to heaven, that suddenly the sun was touring alone, describing the circles and going and coming, etc. This is exactly what we know about what happened in Fatima. Then this so-called miracle of the sun took place in the presence of thousands of people."

Fr. Joseph Roesch reminds us that, "Our Lady is truly our mother. Jesus on the cross said and entrusted John the beloved disciple, to Mary. And in that way he entrusted all of us to Mary. And so she takes that role very seriously of being our mother. So, whenever pilgrims come to Rome, Mary wants to welcome us and help us to find her son here."

Adapted by Jacob Stein

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Author Name

Alexey Gotovskiy has worked at the EWTN Vatican Bureau as a journalist, TV Producer & Manager for the last 7 years. He was born in the Soviet Union, grew up in Russia, was raised in Kazakhstan, and received his graduate level education in Church Communications at the Roman Pontifical University of Holy Cross. He produced the EWTN Vatican Bureau’s flagship program “VATICANO” for 5 years and over 200 episodes covering the Universal Church and Vatican. He was on the papal flight representing EWTN on Pope Francis’ historic trip to Iraq. He speaks 6 languages and is passionate about the former Soviet world and building a bridge between the West and East.

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