Francis and Mary: A lifetime of love

Francis and Mary: A lifetime of love Mary Untier of Knots
Pope in Ireland


In the papal apartments the next morning after Joseph Ratzinger was declared Pope in 2005, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio paused longer than almost any other cardinal to converse with the new German Pontiff and express his deferential respect and loyalty – a tradition that has been carried out by cardinals since the Middle Ages.

A few months later, Bergoglio presented a chalice inscribed with an image of Mary Untier of Knots, to Benedict. The gesture wasn’t a formality but a personal reminder to Benedict about the power of prayer and devotion needed for what would be a challenging pontificate.

The 17th-Century image alludes to the 2nd-Century Church Father St Irenaeus who has written of how “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary”.


While studying in Germany in the 1980’s, Francis discovered this special devotion to Our Lady at the Church of St Peter am Perlach in Augsburg. The painting depicts Mary in heaven surrounded by angels, and standing on a crescent moon crushing the head of the serpent, Satan.  She also holds a long ribbon and is untying a large knot, one of several on the ribbon.

In presenting this image to Benedict, Bergoglio was expressing the message that good will always and eventually overcome evil. And it is this same Marian message that Francis has been devoted to during his own papacy.

Indeed, after being declared Pope in 2013, Francis went straight to Rome’s Basilica St Mary Major to pray and when he stops there on his way to the Vatican after returning from an international journey, he usually leaves a bouquet of flowers that had been presented to him during the trip.

Most people in Argentina were already aware of his devotion to Mary years before his election, given that as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he’d participate in a massive pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lujan; an event so popular it was once referred to as “a religious craze”.

But his love of Mary was immediately conveyed to Catholics throughout the world shortly after he became Pope when he changed the itinerary of the already planned trip to Brazil for World Youth Day in Rio Janerio, to include a day trip to the home of the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. And his devotion to Mary is a precedent he’s certainly kept up with.

On a papal flight in 2013, he said that “Our Lady is more important than the Apostles” and that we can’t “imagine a Church without women”. In 2016, he travelled to Mexico to defend the dignity and rights of immigrants, but before and during the trip he repeatedly said he would visit Our Lady of Guadalupe. “How could I not come?” Francis asked the Mexican bishops when he met with them. “Could the Successor of Peter, called from the far south of Latin America, deprive himself of seeing la Virgen Morenita?”

In March of this year, the Pontiff established a new feast day for the Catholic Church devoted to Mary as the “Mother of the Church” to be celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost. He thought it might “encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety.” Francis believes that through devotion to Mary, we can learn about ourselves, God, and his love for all people.

Above all, the Pope hopes that, as he mentioned in 2013, the faithful don’t reduce Mary to a postmistress, “who sends messages everyday”, but rather realise that she is a mother who is always with and nurturing us. Whatever knots we are experiencing in life, she isn’t far away.