Following a tradition started by St. John XXIII in 1958 and continued by his successors, Pope Francis went this afternoon to Rome’s Spanish Steps to pray in front of the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception that towers over the piazza. There he asked her to intercede with God to help and protect the inhabitants of this city and the citizens of the world, and especially children, families, workers and the unemployed.
“I come to you on this your feast, and I come not just alone. I bring with me all those that your Son has entrusted to me in this city of Rome and in the whole world, so that you may bless them and save them from dangers,” he said, reading from a prayer that he had written for the occasion.
This is the fourth time that Francis has come here on Dec. 8, the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Many thousands of Romans, pilgrims and tourists lined the streets of Rome on this cold, clear day and cheered enthusiastically as he drove in his blue Ford Focus from the Vatican to the Spanish Steps.
After being welcomed on arrival by the cardinal vicar of Rome, Agostino Vallini, and the city’s young mayor, Virginia Raggi, the pope stood in silent prayer for a minute in front of the tall statue of Our Lady erected here by Pope Pius IX in 1857 to commemorate the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Pius IX proclaimed this dogma on Dec. 8, 1854, affirming that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, through a singular privilege and grace of God, was born without the stain of original sin.
The pope then read a short prayer that not only expressed his deep, personal love and veneration for the Mother of Jesus but also his care and concern for people in difficult situations across the globe.
He prayed in the first place for “children, especially those alone and abandoned, and who are deceived and exploited because of this.” His prayer reflected his constant effort to combat the trafficking and exploitation of children worldwide.
Next, he asked Our Lady to help families, especially those “that are struggling most because of many external and internal problems.” Earlier this year he expressed this concern for families in “Amoris Laetitia,” which calls pastors and the whole church to attend to the needs and challenges of families.
He went on to entrust to Our Lady all workers, “especially those who have to do undignified work” and “those who have lost their jobs or cannot find work.” His prayer gave voice to his growing concern at the plight of the unemployed, and especially the vast numbers of young people in Italy and other European countries who cannot get a job.
He appealed to Our Lady to teach people to look “on others and on things, with respect” and “without egoistic interests or hypocrisy.” This was an echo of what he expressed in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” on the care of our common home.
He prayed that Mary, too, would help people understand how to “caress with tenderness, and touch the flesh of Christ in the poor, the sick and the despised” and “help the one who has fallen to get up and sustain the one who is wavering.”
Francis, who will celebrate his 80th birthday on Dec. 17, concluded his prayer by asking Our Lady to help people not to give in to discouragement but instead “to commit themselves to renew ourselves, our city and the world.”