VATICAN CITY — At Mass in the Basilica of St. Mary Major Sunday, Pope Francis said that when we go through difficult times or have problems or worries, Mary is our shield, guarding our faith and protecting us from evil.

“Where the Madonna is at home, the devil does not enter; where there is the Mother, disturbance does not prevail — fear does not win,” the Pope said Jan. 28.

“Who of us does not need this; who of us is not sometimes upset or restless? How often the heart is a stormy sea, where the waves of problems overlap, and the winds of worry do not cease to blow! Mary is the sure ark in the midst of the flood.”

Pope Francis celebrated a special Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major for the feast of the transfer of the icon of Salus Populi Romani.

Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People) is the title of an ancient Byzantine icon of Mary and the Child Jesus, traditionally held to be painted by St. Luke the Evangelist and to have arrived in Rome in the sixth century.

It was first canonically crowned in 1838 by Pope Gregory XVI and a second time in 1954 by Pope Pius XII. It has a long history of devotion by the Roman people, as well as by popes. It resides in the Pauline, also called the “Borghese,” Chapel in St. Mary Major.

Francis has a special devotion to the image. His first visit as pontiff was to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray before the image following his election.

The image has been undergoing extensive restoration in the Vatican Museums, and the Mass also served as the image’s official unveiling following the work.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that it is “a great danger to faith to live without a mother, without protection, letting ourselves be carried away by life like leaves by the wind.”

Just like persecuted people once took refuge under the cloak of the noble, high-ranking women of their village, in “turbulent moments,” we must take shelter under the mantle of Mary, “the highest woman of mankind,” for our own protection.

“Her coat is always open to welcome us and gather us,” he said. “The Mother guards faith, protects relationships, saves us in bad weather and preserves us from evil.”

As Christians, we cannot be neutral or detached from our Mother, he continued. “Because, without a mother, we cannot be children. And we are, first of all, children, beloved children, who have God for a Father and the Madonna for a Mother.”

To illustrate his point, Francis recalled a story of a woman who sat beside the bed of her son in the hospital. He was in pain after an accident, and his mother remained by his bed day and night.

Once she complained to a visiting priest that God never allowed one thing to a mother, which is to suffer in place of her child.

“Here is the mother’s heart,” the Pope said. “She is not ashamed of the wounds, of the weaknesses of her children, but she wants (to take) them on herself.”

And this is how it happens every time, he said. Whether we lack hope, or joy, or our strength is exhausted — whatever our problem — our Mother intervenes.

“And she never, never despises our prayers; she does not let even one fall. She is a mother, she is never ashamed of us; she only waits to be able to help her children.”

“Let’s make the Mother the guest of our daily life, the constant presence in our home, our safe haven,” he concluded. “Let’s entrust (ourselves) to her every day. Let’s invoke her in every turbulence. And let’s not forget to come back to her to thank her.”