The morning of December 30, 2021, with all due safety protocols taken, the much-venerated image of Our Lady of Constantinople, housed in the Marian shrine of St. Augustine in Salerno, Italy started her journey to Rome, to St. Peter’s Basilica for the traditional New Year’s Eve vespers and Te Deum in the presence of Pope Francis.

Known as Our Lady Who Came from the Sea by the Salernitani, it was Pope Francis who requested her presence for the New Year’s Eve vespers and for Mass on January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and also the World Day of Peace. The image of Mary was placed at the foot of the baldacchino over the papal altar that was realized by Bernini and inaugurated in 1633 by Pope Urban VIII. (vatican media photo)

A Jubilee Year dedicated to Our Lady is underway in Salerno and will conclude at the end of this year.

There’s a wonderful story behind this image, almost a story of Mary as a refugee.

In the violence that preceded the fall of Constantinople in 1453, this revered image of Mary was placed on a merchant ship going to Naples, Italy. As it neared the coast of Salerno, just south of Naples, a powerful storm caused the ship to sink and, for a time, no word was had as to the image, the crew or the cargo.

However, shortly after the shipwreck, a mason looking for sand along the Salerno shore hit something unusual with his hoe: it was the icon of Our Lady of Constantinople, later renamed by the people of Salerno.

Tradition says that the mason, having struck the image with his hoe, was left with a paralyzed arm. He began to call out for help. People came to his aid and, as they dug in the sand, they found the image that was recognized by one of the sailors who had survived as the one they had brought from Constantinople.

It seems that the mason – who did not know what a treasure he had found – gave Mary to the city of Salerno that, over time, was showered with blessings and many graces, as was the populace.

This entire scene drew the attention of the Augustinian religious whose community was very close to the beach. While the people kept repeating the word ‘miracle’ they wanted to bring the image into their church and thus organized a procession. It is said that even the bells of the churches – without anyone touching them – began to ring in a festive manner.

The image was then placed in the chapel of the Holy Spirit of the Mazza family where, however, the next day disappeared. It was found in a horse stall and the horses were seen on their knees in front of the image. Mary was brought back to the church but once again she disappeared into the stall. And once again she was brought back to the church.

In time the Augustinians build a church in her honor. She was first placed in a side chapel, then over the main altar.

The image depicts Mary seated on a throne, vested in an elegant blue habit that is trimmed in red with golden touches. With her right hand she’s pointing to the Child Jesus and with her other hand she’s offering Him in adoration to the faithful. Above Jesus and Mary are two angels who assist Mary. The image depicts Mary is the Mother of God and as “She who leads, who indicates the way.”

On the first Sunday of August every year the Salernitani process with the image along the entire coast of the city and then back to the church of St. Augustine


I wish all of you, my faithful readers, many of whom are also good friends, a very beautiful, blessed, happy and, above all, healthy New Year! May the Lord bless you abundantly in 2022.

As I prepare this last column of 2021, we await word from the Vatican on why Pope Francis, scheduled to preside at the traditional December 31st Vespers and the Te Deum in St. Peter’s Basilica, did not preside. Rather, he remained seated in front of the papal altar where Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presided the celebrations but he did stand to deliver the homily and recite the Our Father. Upon both entering and leaving the sanctuary by what is known as the Prayer Door, Francis greeted the new mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri.

I did see part of the liturgy via streaming but not the beginning. I am trying to understand what the procedure is for a cardinal to preside a liturgy but the Pope to give the homily. The media in attendance and watching online and on TV await word from the Holy See Press Office. The Holy Father seemed to walk without great difficulty, as he often has with sciatica, and his voice sounded normal so we await word.

UPDATE: It seems quite simply that Pope Francis wanted Cardinal Re to preside while he, the Pope, gave the homily. If there was a reason behind that decision, we will probably never know. Aside from great Covid restrictions and changes in liturgies last year, I do not recall a cardinal celebrating and a Pope giving the homily in a liturgy. I’ve not had time to research that history right now.

By the way, apologies for no column yesterday. I was trying to work around an Internet outage that caused no few problems. I was able to write and record the interview and news segments of my weekend radio program, Vatican Insider, and uploaded them when wifi came back.

To answer some questions about this weekend’s liturgies: Tomorrow, January 1 is the beautiful solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It is a holy day of obligation, therefore Mass. Sunday always requires Mass attendance. So two holy days, two Masses.

The following are holy days of obligation in the U.S. for 2022: Solemnity of Mary, January 1; Ascension of Jesus, May 13 ( Celebrated on the sixth Thursday after Easter Sunday); Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15; Solemnity of All Saints, November 1; Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, December 8.


Welcome to Vatican Insider on this first weekend, the very first days of the New Year 2022. I know we are all praying for the very same thing in these days – for a healthy happy New Year and one in which we can say goodbye to the global menace of Covid!

My guest this week in the interview segment is Canon Philip Gillespie, rector of the Beda College in Rome, a seminary under the auspices of the Bishops of England and Wales. Our conversation in Part I touches on many topics – the history of the seminary, what its name represents, what is special about the men who come to the Beda and the moving story behind the Cause for Beatification of former student Fr. Thomas Byles.

Fr. Gillespie:

Here are some photos of the seminary premises: The college is a stone’s throw from the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.

The main chapel: The stained glass windows depict the 7 days of creation:

More photos next week when I return with Part II of my conversation with Fr. Gillespie who, by the way, explains the difference between the titles Canon and Father.

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