On the vigil of the Dec. 10 feast of Our Lady of Loreto, uniformed air force pilots wearing face masks carried a large wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in an outdoor procession in Loreto, illuminated by candles and Christmas lights.
Franciscan friars and a few local Catholics participated, reciting the Litany of Loreto as the procession passed, while more than 10,000 others tuned in via the livestream connection on YouTube.
This was just one part of the three-day celebration at the Holy House of Loreto in the Marche region of central Italy during the shrine’s extended Jubilee Year.
The festivities kicked off Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday in Italy and of particular importance to Loreto, as tradition holds that the Holy House is made of parts of the walls of the home in which the Virgin Mary was born and raised.
Archbishop Fabio Dal Cin recalled in his homily for the recitation of the rosary in the Loreto basilica on Dec. 9 that, according to this tradition, the Annunciation and Incarnation of Christ took place within the walls of the Holy House.
Historical documentation shows that the Holy House of Mary was brought from Palestine to Italy in the 13th century.
“So let us ask ourselves with humility: What does this mean for me to say yes to God? What does it mean to let myself be invaded by the power of the Holy Spirit? With what faith, with what love, with what patience, with what intelligence, with what constancy, am I called to live these days?” the archbishop asked.
“We must never forget that compared to the day when Mary pronounced her ‘yes,’ the strength of God’s dedication to every person and to all humanity has never diminished.”
On Dec. 10, Archbishop Cin offered a Mass with representatives of the Italian air force and pilots’ associations, reciting a special aviator’s prayer and act of entrustment of all pilots to Our Lady of Loreto at the end.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto is currently celebrating a jubilee year marking the 100th anniversary of the official proclamation of Our Lady of Loreto as the patroness of pilates and air passengers. This jubilee, which began on Dec. 8, 2019, has been officially extended by Pope Francis to run until Dec. 10, 2021, because of disruption due to the coronavirus crisis.
According to tradition, the Holy House of Mary was transported by angels from the Holy Land to the Italian hill town overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Due to this connection with flight, Pope Benedict XV declared Our Lady of Loreto patroness of aviators in March 1920.
Catholics visiting the basilica during the jubilee can obtain a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions.
A plenary indulgence requires an individual to be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, and pray for the pope’s intentions.
The indulgence is also available to Catholics visiting other shrines dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, as well as chapels in civil and military airports, where the local bishop has requested it.
Pope Francis officially added the feast of Our Lady of Loreto to the universal Roman Calendar in 2019 as an optional memorial to be celebrated on December 10.
“This celebration will help all people, especially families, youth and religious to imitate the virtues of that perfect disciple of the Gospel, the Virgin Mother, who, in conceiving the Head of the Church also accepted us as her own,” Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said in the decree.
“In the Holy House, before the image of the Mother of the Redeemer and of the Church, saints and blesseds have responded to their vocation, the sick have invoked consolation in suffering, the people of God have begun to praise and plead with Mary using the Litany of Loreto, which is known throughout the world.”