Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pope Francis: Visits St. Mary Major Basilica Ahead of Albania Trip



Pope Francis paid a private visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Thursday afternoon, to pray for the success of his upcoming voyage to Albania.

A brief statement from the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ, said the Holy Father made the trip across the city centre to the top of the Esquiline Hill to spend time with Our Lady salus populi Romani – Protectress of the Roman people – whose icon in the church is among the city’s oldest and most beloved objects of Marian devotion.

The visit lasted about a half-hour, at the end of which the Pope left a bouquet of flowers. The basilica was already closed for the day when the Pope arrived, Vatican Radio reported.

...A foreign security service alerted Italy this week after intercepting a conversation between two Arab speakers which referred to "a demonstrative act, Wednesday, at the Vatican," Il Messaggero daily reported.

Wednesday is the day the Pope holds his weekly general audience in the square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica.

Checks by Italy's anti-terrorism unit revealed that one of the speakers passed through the country eight months ago, heightening concerns the threat may be real.

Earlier warnings that Islamic State extremists may be plotting to attack the Pope have been shrugged off by the Vatican, but security has nonetheless been increased for his Wednesday and Sunday audiences, the paper said.

The Repubblica daily said plain clothes special operations officers with sniffer dogs trained in seeking out explosives were helping Vatican police vet tourists, while hotels in the area were also being kept under surveillance.

The news came a day before Pope Francis's trip to Albania, where the pontiff is expected to mingle with the crowds as usual despite reports of possible danger from new IS recruits returning from the Middle East to the mostly-Muslim country.

Some worry the Pope has made himself a target by speaking out against the Islamic State group and having the Holy See voice support for US air strikes in Iraq.

In an interview with Italy's La Nazione daily this week, Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See, Habib Al Sadr, said "what has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear. They want to kill the Pope. The threats against the Pope are credible."

The Vatican played down the warning, saying security measures for the trip would remain unchanged.

AFP

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