By Deborah Castellano Lubov

Ahead of the New Year, Pope Francis made an unexpected visit at the funeral of his friend, Professor Maria Grazia Mara.

This was confirmed in a Dec. 31, 2019, statement by the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, later the same afternoon.

“At 3 p.m. today, Pope Francis took part, privately, in the funeral of Professor Maria Grazia Mara, professor of the Augustinianum, who died yesterday,” Bruni’s statement read.

The funeral was at the Church of Saint Joseph al Nomentano in Rome. During the funeral, as captured in photos, Francis, like any other person paying their respects, sat in a pew near the coffin of his friend.

Maria Grazia Mara, a Patristics expert and author of a number of books on the main figures in Christian history, passed away at age 95.

According to Vatican News, the Pope visited her last year in her home. On July 29, 2018, the Pope went to Via Alessandria, in the Salario neighborhood of Rome to visit her. She had expressed for a long time to meet Francis, but was always impeded by her illness; thus, the Pope went to her.

Last February, during an audience granted for the 50th anniversary of the Patristic Institute Augustinianum, Francis mentioned her in one of his addresses.

Remembering all the individuals who left a mark on the Institute, the Jesuit Pope observed: “And there comes to mind Professor Maria Grazia Mara, who taught so many things and who at 95 still publishes and teaches catechism to children.”

Immediately after, he named Cardinal Grech, who also died by a singular coincidence precisely in these hours.

Pope Expresses His “Great Esteem” for Cardinal Prosper Grech’s Personal Witness of Christian & Consecrated Life

This morning, January 2, 2020, there was the funeral Mass in the Vatican Basilica for the late cardinal, for whom– Francis had said in his condolences telegram earlier this week–he had always a great esteem.

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