Father Marco Pozza, an Italian priest and author of a new book on the “Hail Mary” containing reflections from Pope Francis, has described papal devotion to Mary - not just Francis’s, but that of all popes - as a reflection of the belief that she’s the figure in Christian tradition most feared by the devil.

In comments to Crux, Pozza said the Virgin Mary is “the most trusted insurance against the evil deeds of the devil.”

“From the moment good existed, evil also existed: to hide its presence is a bit like falling into its arms,” he said, adding that to fight evil, “our will is not enough. We need help that can oppose it.” This help, he said, comes from Mary, “the greatest help God has given man to overcome evil.”

Noting how popes generally tend to have a strong devotion to Mary, Pozza said that given the constant, back-of-the-mind awareness each pope has that their time on the Throne of Peter could be the moment in which evil is definitively overcome with the second coming of Christ, they turn to Mary for protection and guidance.

When it comes to the current pope, Pozza said he believes Francis has the same approach. Despite his longstanding devotion to Mary dating back to his time in Buenos Aires, Pozza said, as pope he’s intensified this bond, and “entrusts himself and his mission to the protection of Mary.”

Pozza, a priest and prison chaplain from Padua, spoke ahead of the March 5 publication of his new book, Ave Maria: The Mystery of a Most Beloved Prayer, which consists of a conversation between him and Pope Francis on the various lines in the traditional Hail Mary prayer, and a brief reflection from Pozza himself.

In the book, when asked by Pozza why the devil hates Mary so much, Francis said it is because “Mary bore the Savior in her womb.”

“She brought regeneration to the world. She brought God among men. She was the one who climbed the stairs so that God could come to us,” he said, recalling an image by Catholic priest and artist Father Marko Ivan Rupnik in which Jesus is descending to earth on the hands of Mary, which represent stairs. In one hand Jesus holds the scroll of the law, and with the other he grasps Mary’s mantle.

It’s a “very evocative image of that self-abasement of God,” Francis said, adding that “this is why Satan hates Our Lady so much: because she was the instrument of God’s self-abasement.”

Pozza’s book on the Hail Mary follows a previous book on the Our Father published in March 2018. The book was inspired by a television series on Pozza’s conversations with Francis about the different lines in the prayer, which ran on the Italian bishops’ television station, TV2000, in late 2017. That TV series generated a mini-controversy when Francis suggested changing the translation of a phrase usually rendered into English as “lead us not into temptation,” on the grounds that God wouldn’t do that.

In an introduction for the new book on the Hail Mary, Francis called Mary the “masterpiece” of God, and a mother “who gives total attention, care, closeness to each son, to each daughter.”

“In her we see in fact the heart of a woman that beats like that of God, a heart that beats for all, without distinction. She is truly the human face of God’s infinite goodness,” he said.

In his comments to Crux, Pozza said that after his book on the Our Father, he decided to do a follow-up book on the Hail Mary because it offers another perspective on the faith, not only that of a woman but a mother.

“You can’t know the Son without the Mother, and you cannot know the Mother without keeping her linked to the destiny of her Son,” he said, adding that the Our Father and Hail Mary “are the two faces of our faith, the first prayers we learn as children.”

When it comes to Francis, Pozza described the pontiff’s relationship with the Virgin Mary as one of a son with his mother, which he said gives Francis “that joyfulness of spirit which knows what is good.”

“Going to Mary often, for what I know, is the secret of his great serenity and of his strong ability to discern and fight the evil one,” he said, adding that during their conversations, he was moved by Francis’s spiritual depth.

“Whoever speaks with him has the sensation of speaking with a man who continuously spends time with God and his mysteries,” Pozza said, explaining that speaking to Francis face-to-face, one has “the distinct sensation of being in the interest of God…Nothing distracts him in those moments, everything is concentrated on the person he finds before him.”

Pozza said he believes Francis’s devotion to Mary and his time visiting the poor in the shantytowns of Buenos Aires helped ground the pope’s insistence that pastors must love and welcome all without distinction.

Francis walked with the poor, sharing their tears and their hopes, and he is pushing the Church to adopt the same attitude, Pozza said, adding that as a mother, Mary “does not distinguish; all of her children are dear.”

“When one of these children swerves, gets lost, falls to the ground, her apprehension rises until they are brought home. Because of this, perhaps, Pope Francis loves to repeat that his door, the door of the Church, is always open.”

Noting how many outside the Catholic Church are devoted to the Virgin Mary, including inmates in the prisons where he does ministry, Pozza said he believes people even in the secular world are attracted to the affection and protection she offers her children.

“Inside the prisons, I know men who don’t pray to her son, but they adore the mother. There are people who blaspheme the God but invoke Mary,” he said.

Pozza said there’s a growing loneliness in global society creating a metaphysical prison, which many people find themselves locked into. Knowing that one has a mother, he said, “makes us feel less alone in this fascinating and cruel adventure which is our life.”