St. Paul of the Cross, September 1721

[Image of the Salus Populi Romani, Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome]

Around 20th September Paul of the Cross started for Rome along the Aurelia Highway, and after almost two days of intense walking, entered the city by Porta Cavallegeri beside St. Peter’s Basilica. He found lodgings in the Holy Trinity Hospice near Ponte Sisto. The following day, possibly 25th or 26th September, he went to the Quirinal, then to the papal palace where he asked to speak to the master of the sacred palace, and, we presume, to present his bishop’s letters of recommendation of which none has come down to us. He was summarily sent away. Paul felt terribly desolate, with perhaps a passing doubt as to the validity of the efforts made. However he quickly recovered his calm and courage by contemplating the human failure of the Cross of Christ. Then, almost as an act of reaffirming his fidelity to what God has given him to understand by so many inspirations he went to St. Mary Major’s where before Our Lady he “vowed to promote devotion to the Passion in the hearts of the faithful and, to this end, to endeavour to gather companions”.
– History of the Passionists, Volume 1, Fr. Fabiano Giorgini, C.P., p. 100-101

Coming from the direction of the papal palace, Paul would have entered the Basilica from the door at the back of the building, between the main altar and the Chapel of the Madonna, known as the Borghese Chapel. The cool stillness of the chapel had a soothing effect on him, as did the painting above the altar: the icon of Mary known as Salus Populi Romani, said to have been painted by St. Luke. Kneeling there, allowing the turmoil to leave his heart, he prayed for understanding. Slowly he realised that it was not yet time for presenting the Rule to the pope; that day would come. In the meantime, he must be faithful to the inspiration God had given him. When all doors seemed closed, the only way forward was to commit himself more fully to the work he had been given to do. Before the icon of Mary, he made a vow to promote the memory of the Passion of Jesus and to work to gather companions for this purpose.

– As A Seal Upon Your Heart, Fr. Paul Francis Spencer, C.P., p. 61

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[Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome]

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[Pope Benedict XVI venerates the image of the Salus Populi Romani, 7th May 2005]

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[A group of Australian Passionists on pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Before the image of the Salus Populi Romani they celebated Eucharist and renewed their vow to promote the memory of the Passion of Jesus.]

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