Pope prays for WYD before famous Marian image

Two days before his departure to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day, Pope Francis made a surprise trip Saturday to Rome's Basilica of St. Mary Major in order to ask for Mary's intercession.

The Pope entered through the side door of the basilica. He spoke a few words to the faithful gathered there.  He asked them to accompany him "with prayers, trust and penance" for World Youth Day.

Pope Francis spent over thirty minutes of his one hour and fifteen minute visit praying before the image of the Virgin Mary known as "Protectress of the Roman People." The large Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child is traditionally held to be a creation of St. Luke the Evangelist.

The Pope left flowers and lit a candle with the World Youth Day logo in front of the image.

This was not Pope Francis' first time praying before the historic image. On March 14, the day after his election, he traveled to the basilica's chapel early in the morning to ask for Mary's protection over his new papacy. In May, the month traditionally dedicated to Mary, he visited again.

On Monday, July 22, Pope Francis will travel to Brazil for the 28th World Youth Day, a gathering of young Catholics from across the globe. The pilgrims celebrate their faith along with the Pope.

In keeping with the Year of Faith declared by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the theme of this year's World Youth Day is "Go and make disciples of all nations."

Pope Francis has expressed his desire to aid young people in living out this theme by permitting participants to receive partial or plenary indulgences under the usual conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the Pope's intentions.

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