Rome Newsroom, Dec 8, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).
On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Pope Francis venerated a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary located atop a tall column near Rome’s Spanish Steps.
Pope Francis stands below the nearly 40-foot tall column dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna on Dec. 8, 2023. Vatican Media
“Immaculate Virgin! We come to you with our hearts divided between hope and anguish. We need you, our Mother,” Pope Francis prayed standing below the statue in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna on Dec. 8.
“But first of all, we want to thank you because in silence, as is your style, you watch over this city, which today wraps you in flowers to tell you its love. In silence, day and night, you watch over us: on families, with joys and worries … in places of study and work; on public institutions and offices; on hospitals and nursing homes; on prisons; on those who live on the streets; on the parishes and all communities of the Church of Rome. Thank you for your discreet and constant presence, which gives us comfort and hope.”
Pope Francis greets the crowd gathered in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 2023. Vatican Media
“You know, we need you, Mother, because you are the Immaculate Conception. … The very fact that you exist reminds us that evil has neither the first nor the last word,” Pope Francis said.
The pope also offered prayers for the Ukrainian people, the Palestinian people, the Israeli people, and “all peoples tried by war.”
“Today, Holy Mother, we bring here, under your gaze, many mothers who, as happened to you, are grieving,” he prayed. “Mothers who mourn their children killed by war and terrorism.”
A firefighter places a wreath of flowers on the statue of the Virgin Mary’s outstretched arm. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
The statue of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna sits atop a nearly 40-foot-high column.
The statue was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Since 1953, it has been customary for popes to venerate the statue for the feast day. Pope Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles on foot from the Vatican.
A firefighter scales a long ladder to the top of a nearly 40-foot-high column to pay tribute at dawn to the Blessed Virgin with a wreath of flowers on Dec. 8, 2023. Daniel Ibaniez/CNA
The city of Rome’s celebration of the Marian feast day began at dawn as a firefighter scaled a long ladder to put a fresh wreath of flowers around Mary’s outstretched arms. Locals also laid flowers at the column’s base.
Pope Francis looks up at the 40-foot high statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Dec. 8, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is an annual public holiday across Italy and a date on which Italians traditionally decorate their Christmas trees and nativity scenes.
Pope Francis celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception with the city of Rome on Dec. 8, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Before venerating the statue of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus prayer at midday from the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking the crowd gathered near the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square to mark the day’s Marian feast.
The Vatican’s nativity scene will be unveiled at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the night of Dec. 9 in St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis gives his Angelus reflection from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Dec. 8, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
In his Angelus message, Pope Francis reflected on the Virgin Mary’s “daily fidelity in simple things.”
“Prior to the Annunciation, the Gospel says nothing about Mary. She is presented as a simple girl, apparently equal to so many others who were living in her village. A young girl who, precisely because of her simplicity, kept pure that Immaculate Heart with which, by God’s grace, she had been conceived. And this too is important, for to welcome God’s great gifts, it is necessary to know how to treasure those that are more everyday and less apparent,” the pope said.
“It is precisely with her daily fidelity in goodness that Our Lady allowed God’s gift to grow within her. This is how she trained herself to respond to the Lord, to say ‘yes’ to him with her entire life,” he added.
Pope Francis then visited Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, the oldest Marian sanctuary in the West dedicated to the Mother of God.
Pope Francis prays inside the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Dec. 8, 2023. Vatican Media
Inside the basilica, the pope prayed before the famous icon known as the Salus Populi Romani — Mary, Protection of the Roman People.
The pope presented the Marian icon with a Golden Rose, a traditional symbol of a papal blessing that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Over the centuries, popes have given Golden Roses to monasteries, sanctuaries, sovereigns, and prominent personalities in recognition of their commitment to the faith and the common good.
Pope Francis venerates the Salus Populi Romani icon in the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Dec. 8, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Julius III was the first pope to give a Golden Rose to the Salus Populi Romani icon in St. Mary Major in 1551. Pope Paul V also donated a Golden Rose to the basilica in 1613. Both historic golden roses were likely lost in the Napoleonic invasion of the Papal States, according to the basilica.
“After 400 years, the Pontiff has chosen to give a tangible sign of his devotion towards the venerated icon, strengthening the thousand-year bond between the Catholic Church and the city of Rome,” the basilica said in a statement released to mark the occasion.