We remember today the Consecration of the City of Rome to Our Lady by Pope Pius XII in the Church of S. Ignazio, in front of the thaumaturge (miraculous) painting of the Madonna del Divino Amore (Our Lady of Divine Love), exiled from its Sanctuary of Castel di Leva, during the times of war.
The consecration of the City of Rome was made on June 4, 1944, in the most tragic moment of the 1939-45 war. The Romans have always professed a tender devotion to Our Lady of Divine Love. On the occasion of the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II consecrates a new, modern and grandiose Shrine in that same place. Rome is an all Marian sanctuary, but that of Divine Love is a testimony of the Romans’ lively devotion to the Madonna who protected the city during the war.
The sanctuary of the Madonna del Divino Amore is made up of two churches: the ancient one from 1745 and the new one from 1999. It is a pilgrimage destination dear to the Romans. Every Saturday, from the first after Easter to the last of October, a night pilgrimage is held on foot with departure at midnight from Piazza di Porta Capena, near the Circus Maximus. At dawn, after covering 14 km one reaches the sanctuary where the pilgrim’s mass is celebrated.
The first miracle: The miracle tower
According to legend, in the spring of 1740 a pilgrim, going to St. Peter’s Basilica, lost himself in the inhospitable and unhealthy countryside near Castel di Leva, about 12 km south of Rome. He glimpsed some farmhouses and a ruined castle on top of a hill, the wayfarer goes there hoping to find someone who will give him information to find his way. However, he is attacked by a pack of angry dogs that surround him. The pilgrim, looking up, realizes that on the castle tower there is an icon depicting the Virgin and the Child, hovered by the dove of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, he invoke Our Lady to save him from that danger. The beasts that are on him suddenly stop and disappeared. The shepherds who are in the area, hearing by the wayfarer’s screams, rush to the scene and, listening to his story, put him back on the road to Rome. The pilgrim’s name is unknown but the news of the incident spread quickly in the city so that the icon of the Madonna in Castel di Leva soon became a pilgrimage destination.
On September 5, 1740, the icon was removed from the tower and taken to the nearby estate called “La Falconara”, where the church of Santa Maria ad Magos is located.
On April 19, 1745, Easter Monday, the icon was transferred to a place near the tower, which is still standing today, where in the meantime a new church was built, the work of an unknown architect. The fresco is enthroned in the main altar, where it is currently located. The participation of the people who came from Rome and from the nearby castles is such that Pope Benedict XIV decides to grant the plenary indulgence not only for the day of its translation but also for the following seven days.
The custody of the new sanctuary is initially problematic given its position in an isolated place, easy prey for bandits and brigands: dozens of religious orders were consulted, but no one was willing to accept such an assignment.
The new sanctuary was entrusted first to a hermit caretaker, then, in 1805, to priests who lived there only in the period of Pentecost, when the pilgrimages were more numerous. In 1840, the year of the centenary of the first miracle, the church and the altar are restored, the stuccos again gilded with gold, two other altars and numerous confessionals are installed. Cloths, damasks and other sacred furnishings were brought from Rome. Even the via Ardeatina, which leads to the sanctuary, reduced to a bad state, was restored. The celebrations, in which King Michael of Portugal also participated, began on June 7, 1840, Sunday of Pentecost, to end 7 days later.
After the celebrations for the centenary, a season of decline opens: around the Sanctuary, especially on the days near Pentecost, stalls of porchetta, pecorino, fava beans and wine are set up accompanied by the phenomenon of the “madonnare” or Roman people, for mostly greengrocers and washerwomen, who celebrate their particular annual feast on Pentecost Monday.
This mixture of sacred and profane (the pilgrimage to Divine Love had now become synonymous with “trip out of town”) led to a progressive decline of the sanctuary in the early decades of the twentieth century which fell almost into oblivion. In 1930, when the sanctuary became dependent on the vicariate, a rector was sent to the place, with the obligation of residence, who from 1932 also became parish priest of the parish of the Divine Love. The first rector of the sanctuary was the young priest Don Umberto Terenzi (whose cause for canonization is in process), who had survived a road accident near the sanctuary.
June 4, 1944: a vow for the salvation of Rome
World War II events also involve the Madonna del Divino Amore. After the area of the Sanctuary had been bombed on the following days of September 8, 1943, the icon of the Madonna was brought to Rome on January 24, 1944. Accepted triumphantly in the city by the people, the image was first brought to the church of the Madonna del Divino Amore, which is located near the Piazza Fontanella Borghese, but in May, given the huge influx of faithful, it is transferred to San Lorenzo in Lucina.
Pope Pius XII, given the imminence of the battle for the conquest of Rome between the Nazis and the Allies, solemnly invites the Romans to pray for the salvation of the city during the octave of Pentecost and the novena of Our Lady of Divine Love, begin that year May 28, 1944. The turnout in San Lorenzo in Lucina in those days increases so much (the newspaper La Civiltà Cattolica reports 15,000 communions distributed daily) that they were forced to transfer the image of the Madonna to the wider Sant’Ignatius of Loyola in Campo Marzio. The fate of Rome is decided on June 4, the same day that the octave ends.
At 6 pm, in the church of Saint Ignatius which fully packed with people, the text of the Romans’ vow to the Madonna of Divine Love is read so that the city may be spared from the destruction of the war. The faithful promised to correct their moral conduct, to erect a new sanctuary and to carry out a work of charity in Castel di Leva. The vow is expressed in a hurry, because of the curfew that would strike at 7 pm. The vow was read by the chamberlain of the parish priests, Father Gremigni, instead of the Pope (who was unable to leave the Vatican due to the danger of deportation). That same evening the Germans left Rome and the allied troops make their triumphal entry into the city.
On 11 June, as thousands of Romans had done for over four months, Pope Pius XII can now go to the church of Saint Ignatius and celebrate a mass of thanksgiving to Our Lady of the Divine Love who is given the title of Salvatrix of Rome. During the homily the pontiff said:
«We are here today not only to ask you for your heavenly favors, but first of all to thank you for what happened, against human expectations, in the supreme interest of the Eternal City and its inhabitants. Our Immaculate Mother once again saved Rome from extremely serious imminent dangers; She inspired those who had the fate in hand, particular senses of reverence and moderation; whence, in changing events, and even in the midst of the immense conflict, we have witnessed a safety, which must fill our hearts with tender gratitude towards God and his most pure Mother.»
The fulfillment of the vow
After the war, under the direction of the rector Don Umberto Terenzi, the sanctuary in Castel di Leva was reborn: the seminary of the Oblates of Divine Love was born (who have since guarded and animated the sanctuary), the Congregation of the daughters of Our Lady of Divine Love (still engaged today in the service of charity works born around the sanctuary such as the kindergarten, reception and assistance of children in difficulty).
Don Terenzi tried to build a new sanctuary to fulfill the vow made at the end of the war, but the bureaucratic difficulties and logistical difficulties always prevented him from carrying out this work.
The cardinal vicar Camillo Ruini will have to wait until 8 January 1996 to lay the foundation stone of what has become the new sanctuary for the Jubilee of 2000. The structure, able to accommodate over 1500 pilgrims, was built at the foot of the hill, outside the ancient walls, without violating the landscape of the Roman countryside and the eighteenth-century monumental complex. The new sanctuary was designed by the Franciscan friar and priest Father Costantino Ruggeri (1925-2007), painter, sculptor, glassmaker, “bâtisseur d’églises”.
The sanctuary of the Gypsies
In the vast area of Divine Love, on a small hill outside the enclosure of the sanctuary, in 2004, a singular place of outdoor worship was dedicated, called the sanctuary of the Gypsies, dedicated to Zeffirino Giménez Malla, a Catholic gypsy shot in 1936, during the Spanish civil war, beatified in 1997.
It is a circular space delimited by a few tuff walls that define essential spaces of the cult: two jambs that mark the entrance, two double-tiered hemicycles for the faithful, a central altar, an ambo and a rough wooden cross, and at the bottom, in the apse, a bronze sculpture representing the blessed holder. The decorative elements are made up, in addition to the bronze already mentioned, of ceramic panels with the symbols of the evangelists on the ambo and a majolica in memory of the 500,000 gypsies exterminated by Nazism.
On May 4, an annual pilgrimage of Catholic Gypsies is held, who already used to frequent the ancient sanctuary.
The devotion of the Roman people to this Madonna is also manifested in numerous aedicules scattered throughout the city; for some of this popular piety has carpeted the surrounding walls over the years with dense tiny tombstones “for the grace received”.
A great deal of these ex votos, for example, were attached to the Aurelian walls near the Polyclinic; after the 70s they were dismantled and transferred and partially reassembled on the external wall of the sanctuary.
PRAYER TO OUR LADY OF DIVINE LOVE
O beautiful Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, O Our Lady of Divine Love, we turn our confident prayer to you for the graces we need. You can obtain everything, you who deserved to be greeted by the angel of God: Ave, gratia plena!
Yes, O Mary, truly you are full of grace, because your heavenly Bridegroom, the Holy Spirit, with His divine love, from your conception has come to you, has preserved you from sin and kept immaculate; he overshadowed you in the Annunciation and made you Mother of Jesus leaving your virginity intact; he rested on you again on the day of Pentecost, filling you with his seven gifts, so that You may be the treasurer and source of divine graces.
You, therefore, very sweet Mother of Divine Love, listen to our supplications: thank you, Our Lady!
Secure peace to Italy and the world, make your love triumph, protect the Pope, gather all Christians in the perfect unity desired by your divine Son, illuminate those who still do not believe with the light of the Holy Gospel, convert to God poor sinners, grants us also the strength to mourn our sins and to overcome temptations from now on, enlighten our mind to always follow the path of goodness, open to us at the end, o Mary, when God will call us, the door of heaven.
While you who see us groaning and weeping in this valley of tears, help us in our miseries, keep us resigned in the inevitable crosses of life, heal, O Mother of grace, our infirmities, restore health to the sick who comes to you.
Lift, O Mary, and free from their pains the holy souls of Purgatory, especially those entrusted to the Work of the Suffrages of the Shrine and the victims of all wars.
Look maternally and protect the works of your Shrine of Divine Love, and to us your children, grant, sweetest Mother, to be able to praise you always, and that our heart may always be ardent with Divine Love in life, that we may enjoy it forever in Heaven. Amen.
VIDEO PILGRIMAGE: (audio in italian)
Sito Ufficiale – http://www.santuariodivinoamore.it/