Friday, August 31, 2007

Santa Casa di Loreto

Pope set for weekend visit to Loreto

Vatican, Aug. 31, 2007 ( - Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) will travel to Loreto, Italy this weekend for a gathering of young Italian Catholics.

The Holy Father will leave his summer residence on Saturday afternoon, September 1, traveling by helicopter to Loreto, on Italy's eastern coast. His weekend visit will include a question-and-answers session with the 800 participants in the "Agora" gathering, a time for private prayer in the Holy House of Loreto, and a Mass on Sunday morning. Pope Benedict will return to Castel Gandolfo on Sunday evening.

The "Agora" meeting is part of a 3-year campaign among Catholic youth, which in turn is the result of a pastoral-planning meeting among Italian Church leaders in 2006. The campaign, designed to reinvigorate the faith among young Italians, will continue through the World Youth Day observance in Sydney, Australia, in July 2008, and conclude with a final year of evangelization aimed at Italian youth.

Marian Shrine

The Holy House of Loreto is one of the most revered Marian shrines in the world. Since medieval times, the Holy House has been believed to be the very home in which the Virgin Mary lived, conceived and raised the young Jesus.

A large basilica has been built around the small shrine, and the sacred site attracts as many as 4 million Catholic pilgrims and visitors each year.

According to Catholic tradition, the Holy House came under threat during the turmoil of the Crusades, so in 1291, angels miraculously translated the house from its original location to a site in modern-day Croatia. An empty space was left in Nazareth, while a small house suddenly appeared in a field. The bewildered parish priest, brought to the scene by shepherds who discovered it, had a vision in which the Virgin Mary revealed it was her former house.

On December 10, 1294, the house was again moved by angels because of the Muslim invasion of Albania. It landed first in Recanti, Italy, but was shortly thereafter moved for a third time to its present location in Loreto.

The Holy House of Loreto, or Santa Casa di Loreto in Italian, has been venerated by pilgrims great and small, including many popes and saints, and numerous miracles and healings have been reported. Scientists are said to have confirmed the materials to be the same as those found in Nazareth and the house lacks normal foundations.

In 1469, a large basilica was built over the Holy House at Loreto, and still stands today. In 1507, a marble enclosure was constructed around the House inside the basilica, and in 1510, the site was officially approved for pilgrimages. Over the centuries, countless pilgrims have kneeled inside the basilica around the Holy House, wearing a trough in the hard rock.

The Basilica built over the Holy House has been rebuilt and repaired periodically since its construction in 1469, leaving it with a Renaissance exterior and a Gothic interior.

Inside the basilica, the Holy House is, of course, the main attraction. It is a small brick building, 13 x 31 feet. Inside the house is an altar with the Latin inscription Hic Verbum Caro Factum Est, "Here the Word was made flesh." A statue of the Virgin stands above the altar.


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