Pope makes surprise personal pilgrimage to Marian shrine

Pope Benedict XVI quietly left Rome for a personal pilgrimage to a Marian shrine at Mentorella, Italy, on Saturday, replicating a similar pilgrimage that the newly elected Pope John Paul II made 27 years earlier.

CLICK HERECatholic World News reports that the Holy Father's visit to the shrine of the Mother of Grace, in the Tivoli diocese, was not announced until after his return. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls issued a short statement on Saturday afternoon disclosing that the Pontiff had traveled to Mentorella, celebrated Mass at the shrine, and returned to the Vatican in the afternoon.

Navarro-Valls reminded reporters that Pope John Paul had made his own pilgrimage to the same shrine on 29 October 1978. For John Paul II, this was the first trip outside Rome during his pontificate. For Benedict XVI, it was the first time (other than his summer vaction in the Italian Alps) that he had left Rome on a personal mission.

Pope Benedict was back at the Vatican in time to venerate the relics of eight newly beatified Spanish martyrs, and speak to the congregation attending the beatification ceremonies, later in the afternoon.

The shrine of the Mother of Grace is located on a rocky peak nearly 1200 metres high, rising over the valley of Giovenzano near Tivoli, about 55 km outside Rome. Tradition holds that it was built on orders from the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. St. Benedict lived for two years in a natural cave near the shrine.

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1 Nov 2005