Pope Francis and the Re-Marianization of the Papacy


That Pope Francis has a strong Marian devotion became immediately clear after his election. In his first speech as Pope he committed himself and the world to Mary. The following day his first visit outside of the Vatican walls was to the basilica of St Mary Major where he prayed to Mary. In his homilies he has at times disseminated his Marian piety. Now that the liturgical Marian month (May) has begun, the Pope has further expressed his devotion. On May 3rd he lead the rosary in the same Marian basilica he visited after being elected and gave a public speech to the people that had gathered there.

Mary, Salus Populi Romani

This particular basilica is known for hosting and displaying the icon of Mary who is called Salus Populi Romani (i.e. salvation of the Roman people). This is a Marian title that underlines her being the protector of the Roman people. In front of the icon, Pope Francis commented: “We are all here in front of Mary; we prayed for her motherly guidance; we took her our joys and sorrows, our hopes and difficulties; we invoked her with the title Salus Populi Romani to ask for ourselves, for Rome and for the world the gift of health. Yes, she gives health, she is our health”.

In expounding his teaching, Francis went on to talk about three ways in which Mary is our health: She helps us grow as men and women, just as a mother cares for her children; She helps us face our difficulties, just as a mother walks with her children; Lastly she helps us make right decisions in life, just as a mother wants her children to live responsibly.

Outside of Roman Catholic piety, it is difficult to understand such a profound “motherly” language of devotion to Mary and to square it with a Christ-centered and a Bible-based faith which unequivocally points to Jesus Christ as the only Mediator between God and man. Biblically, these roles relate to the Christological offices of Jesus as Priest and King. Yet Roman Catholicism attributes them to Mary as an extension of Christ’s role as mediator. Out of its synergism the Roman Catholic faith allows, indeed demands, such a veneration of Mary which has theological, spiritual, and emotional dimensions. Mary is seen as the protector of life.

Papal Marianisms

In closing his speech, Pope Francis addressed the crowd by saying: “Thank you for your presence here in the house of the mother of Rome, our Mother. Hurrah to the Salus Populi Romani. Hurrah to Madonna. She is our Mother. Let us entrust ourselves to her because she cares for us like a good mother”. This time the devotional language matched that of sports enthusiasts: Hurrah, hurrah! The magnitude of Mary’s motherly role stirred the heart and soul of many people gathered there.

Pope Francis has stressed the fact that he wants to emphasize his role as bishop of Rome and has begun to give this emphasis a distinct Marian flavor. We can now begin to see the trajectory of this present pontificate as far as his Marianism is concerned. The last pope to share such a high view of Mary was John Paul II. His motto was “totus tuus” (i.e. totally yours), and his veneration of Marian icons and his practice of Marian devotions were very evident. Benedict XVI has been portrayed as a less Marian Pope, although he has always prayed to Mary on a daily basis and has included many Marian elements in all his work. After a short recess, Mary is once again a prominent figure with Pope Francis. His pontificate seems to be significantly shaped by Marian theology and veneration.

Leonardo De Chirico


Rome, 10th May 2013

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. I know that the devil cannot come into most countries and get people to engage in devil worship. Most people would flee that. The work of the devil is more subtle. All he needs to do is get the eyes of the people to deviate away from the glory of Jesus Christ and look instead at another. For example he gets many to look at a good woman, Mary, and he convinces them that she is their life and salvation. Only Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, no one can come to the Father except through Him.

  2. Chris,

    Thanks for the post. It is a great reminder and concern in regard to the RCC and where the pope is leading it.

  3. It’s important to realize that the Catholic Mary is not in any way the Mary of the Bible. The Catholics attribute titles of deity to Mary that should only belong to God, they pray to her, worship her as a goddess, believe she was sinless, and claim she ascended to heaven. The Madonna and Child of the Catholic religion is modeled after the Diana, Ashtoreth, Semiramis, and other ancient goddesses and in no way resembles the Biblical ordinary Jewish woman God chose to bring the His Son Jesus Christ into the world. http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0040/0040_01.asp

  4. From my own personal interaction with every day RC’s it seems we have so much in common and a common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But this stuff about Mary is so utterly alien I don’t even begin to understand it. How did the Mary of the Bible became the RC’s god-like Mary?

  5. As a former Catholic I might be able to help understand this. Catholics do not believe death is a barrier to communion with all the saints. For instance, when a widow sits in a cemetery and talks to her deceased husband, Catholics don’t believe death prevents him from hearing her. Luther believed the original church fathers who set the bible canon got it wrong, leading to the mess he corrected. But to do so, and be biblical, he had to shorten the bible from the original, that the Catholics still use. Most of Catholicism is biblical, by the original canon. So just as we go to the elders and ask them to pray with us and for us for our (healing) needs, Catholics believing no barrier exists in the body of Christ, the communion of saints being ALL Christians living and dead, often ask the various saints and church fathers to join in their prayers, and yes, they use Mary and Joseph and various saints as role models, revering them even, but I have never met any catholic that worshiped anyone but the triune god, or believed anything besides salvation being based on anything but faith in Jesus alone, and that works are the result of faith powered by god. That’s a short answer to a very complicated issue, but true. I became Protestant for many reasons, but one of the larger reasons was that Catholicism makes little sense without a catholic school, it is all to gobble gookey with just church once a week and weekly catechism. The church moved out of the cities following white flight as aid to parochial schools ended, and are no longer relevant and too complicated in a rural setting.

  6. @spike

    As I understand it, not having ever been Catholic but from studies, the Catholic Church attributes qualities of Christ and of God to Mary because she gave birth to Christ. Since God is perfect and for Jesus to be born perfect, it’s supposed that the Mother was neccasarily perfect. She couldn’t be sinful and give birth to a sinless nature in Him, or as the idea proposes.

    That’s how I have come to understand this Marian ideology. Now it has plenty of problems especially with if she were perfect, wouldn’t the mean her parents would neccasarily be perfect and the trend that continues to go back in time? Ultimately you get back to Adam and Eve, both fallen, and so does this idea.

  7. Not her parents… Your talking about the “immaculate conception” being that Mary was born without “original sin”. And the “assumption of Mary” into heaven. Yes there’s that little sliver of Catholics with a devotion to Mary as the perfect role model. But any canonized saint is perfect, too, as any time in purgatory is over for them, since they have been working miracles on earth (I believe it takes 3) by praying for people and having those prayers miraculously answered by god on people’s behalf. All of this is pretty much an old-timers thing, and the GG i was refering too that catholics just dont care about. If you stood outside a Catholic Church as mass ended and asked people leaving how do they know they are saved, you’d get the same answer outside your church. If you asked if they thought they would go to purgatory when they died, they’d laugh at you. If you asked them if they know anybody that worshipped saints or thought Mary was godlike, again they’d laugh, if you asked them what’s the big deal with Mary, they’d tell you she said yes to god about something that took a HUGE leap of faith, no small task for a simple Jewish girl. If you started pointing out all the catholic things that weren’t really biblical by your standards, and the different standards of 50,000 other Protestant denominations, they’d probably tell you that they were just trying to trust god more, and be more like Christ, just like you. I’ve an interesting post on that inspired by a great Mike Horton article he had in Modern Reformation, if links are allowed here-


    I hope I explained my point about the “real” Catholic pew warmers. Thanks for your response.

  8. The Mary focus is one of many extra/contrabiblical traditions that we should avoid. Thankfully, they are right about the trinity, Deity/death/resurrection of Christ. So Catholics are regenerate and know/love Jesus, while others are nominal, religious/ritualistic, lacking relationship with Christ.

  9. One of “Mary’s” titles is “Queen of heaven”.
    See what God says about that in speaking through Jeremiah:
    Jer 7:18
    Jer 44:17-19; 25

    I vividly remember as a young boy attending a convent school in my village, the entire school had to line up and one by one kneel in front of a statue of “Mother Mary” and venerate her.
    As i got to the steps leading up to the statue i was unable to move. In the parish church i attended (Anglican) the 10 commandments were painted on the wall behind the pulpit. The 2nd law came to mind in that moment and i turned away.
    The “Mother Superior” (who was she to think she was better than my mum anyway) was furious and complained to my father. He gently reminded her that i was there for only the 3 standard R’s and not for religious indoctrination as a fourth.
    End of story.

  10. One editor wanted to title my book, “Arm Wrestling Mother Superior.” It’s probably good that we didn’t (even though I would have made for a fun cover).

  11. Dear Brothers in Christ,
    Please read John Paul II, 1987 Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, Mother of the Redeemer, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031987_redemptoris-mater_en.html. See also, Tim Perry, Mary for Evangelicals:Toward an Understanding of the Mother of our Lord, http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Evangelicals-Toward-Understanding-Mother/dp/083082569X. Again, Timothy George, “Evangelicals and the Mother of God,” First Things,February 2007, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/03/evangelicals-and-the-mother-of-god-40. See also, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, “Do Whatever He tells you: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life,” http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/10/do-whatever-he-tells-you-the-blessed-virgin-mary-in-christian-faith-and-life. Once again, last but not least, the book by the French ecumenical group of Catholic and Reformed pastors and theologians, Les Group des Dombes, Mary in the Plan of God and in the Communion of Saints, 2002, Paulist Press, http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Plan-God-Saints-Understanding/dp/0809140691/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369941841&sr=1-1&keywords=0809140691.

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