Pope Marks Return of Iconic Roman Statue of Our Lady


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(24 Jun 10 - RV) Early Thursday morning Pope Benedict XVI left the Apostolic Palace and in motor cavalcade, journeyed north of Vatican City State to Monte Mario Hill which overlooks the city of Rome. There in the Don Orione Institute for maimed and orphaned children, he unveiled a statue of Our Lady, especially dear to the Roman people, one they affectionately call "La Madonna".

Rising 9 metres high, on a pedestal of 20 metres, the great statue of Our Lady, "Salus Populi Romani", collapsed in a violent storm October last. As he blessed the restored and relocated bronze image, the Holy Father recalled the deep bond between the people of his diocese, the statute and the Don Orione Institute:

He said "the giant statue of Our Lady, demolished a few months ago by the fury of the wind, has returned to this hill to keep watch over our city". It is "a dramatic and providential reminder of events, written in the history and conscience of the City. In fact, it was placed on the hill of Monte Mario in 1953, as the fulfilment of a popular vow made during the Second World War, when hostilities and armed conflict made many fear for the fate of Rome. So it was that the Roman centres of Don Orione proposed a petition for a vow to Our Lady, which saw the pledge of over one million people. The Venerable Pius XII took up the devout initiative of the people who wanted to entrust themselves to Mary and the vow was pronounced on June 4, 1944, before an image of Our Lady of Divine Love. On that very day, the peaceful liberation of Rome took place".

After the war, the collection of copper to be devoted to the statue began. The artist entrusted with its realisation was the Jewish sculptor Minerbi Arrigo (Ferrara, 1881-Padua, 1960). A very special bond united the well-known sculptor to the children of Don Orione, who had saved him and his family from the Nazis, hiding them for five months in late '43 at the Institute of St. Philip. The artist's true identity was known only to the Institute Director who had given orders to lay, religious and seminarians not to ask questions about the "surplus" of professors and teachers - in reality hidden persecuted - circulating in the classrooms of the Institute. In gratitude, Minerbi modelled the dying Don Orione, a marble statue kept in the chapel of Little Cottolengo in Milan and the "Madonna Salus Populi Romani", a visible sign of the Roman people's vow.

The "Madonna" is a statute of embossed copper on iron frames, with a gold leaf coating, her right arm is raised, calling all creatures to raise their gaze On High, toward her Son, while her left arm extends toward the city, almost to invoke divine protection upon all its inhabitants.

Reflecting on the location of the statue, a centre for disabled and orphaned children, Pope Benedict said "The program of St. Luigi Orione, 'Only charity will save the world', was meaningfully realised here". "Don Orione lucidly and passionately lived the Church's task to live love to allow the light of God enter the world (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 39). He left that task to his disciples as a spiritual and apostolic path, believing that 'love opens our eyes to faith and warms hearts with love for God".

Concluding his address the Holy Father said; "works of charity, be they personal acts and or services offered to vulnerable people in large institutions, can never be reduced to philanthropic gestures, but must always remain a tangible expression of God's providential love. Don Orione reminds us that for this to happen we must be moulded in the tender charity of Our Lord' (Writings 70, 231) through an authentically spiritual and holy life. Only then can we pass from the works of charity to charity of works, because - added your founder - works devoid of the love of God, but evaluated before him, are worthless' (cf PSMC, 19.6.1920, P.141).