Pope issues new statutes for Basilica of St. Mary Major

Pope Francis prays before the icon of Mary, "Salus Populi Romani," in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome April 1, 2023, after being released from Rome's Gemelli hospital for treatment of bronchitis. (CNS photo/Holy See Press Office)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Saying he wanted to prioritize the spiritual and pastoral care of visitors to Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, Pope Francis has approved a new set of statutes for the basilica’s chapter, the group of priests resident at the church.

In December 2021, the pope had appointed then-Msgr. Rolandas Makrickas, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, to be the extraordinary commissioner of the basilica, studying all aspects of its functioning, including what were reported to be serious financial difficulties that were exacerbated by the lack of tourists and pilgrims during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publishing the new norms for the chapter March 20, the Vatican also announced Pope Francis had named Archbishop Makrickas to be coadjutor archpriest of the basilica with the right to succeed 78-year-old Polish Cardina Stanislaw Rylko, who has served as archpriest since 2016.

The norms specify that the archpriest is a cardinal and is appointed for a five-year renewable term.

The pope said Archbishop Makrickas would continue to be the legal representative of the basilica and would cover the duties of “the delegate for pastoral care” and “the delegate for administration” until those officers are appointed.

A new administrative council for the basilica will be formed by the archpriest, the two delegates, a representative of the office governing Vatican City State and one from the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which controls most of the Vatican’s investment portfolio, including real estate, the statutes said.

As for the canons — the priests who are members of the chapter — Pope Francis said, “I consider it opportune to free the canons from any economic and administrative duties, so that they may devote themselves, fully and with renewed vigor, to the spiritual and pastoral accompaniment that pilgrims from all over the world seek and hope to find as they cross the threshold of the first Marian shrine in the West.”

The chapter is made up of 12 priests, the new rules said, and one of them must be from Spain. Since King Philip IV of Spain made a bequest to the basilica in 1647, the reigning king of Spain is an honorary protocanon on the basilica.

In a December interview with Mexican news outlet N+, Pope Francis said he plans to be buried at St. Mary Major rather than at the Vatican. And, in a book published March 19, he said that while he has no plans to resign, if he did he would want to live at the basilica and spend the rest of his days hearing confessions.

The pope visits the basilica before and after every foreign trip, praying before the icon “Salus Populi Romani” (“health of the Roman people”).


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