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Pope Francis prays in front of a Marian statue near the Spanish Steps in Rome Dec. 8, 2023, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Roberto Gualtieri, the mayor of Rome, is at the left. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

ROME (CNS) – Mary’s conception, free from original sin, shows that the destiny of humanity lies in life, brotherhood, harmony and peace rather than death, hate, conflict and war, Pope Francis said on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

“Your person, the fact that you exist, reminds us that evil does not have the first nor the last word,” the pope said to Mary during a prayer ceremony Dec. 8 while seated in front of a Marian statue in central Rome.

After a canceled trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and having an aide read his speeches for the past weeks due to a bronchial infection, Pope Francis went into the center of Rome to continue the tradition of praying before the elevated statue of Mary next to the Spanish Steps.

That morning, Rome firefighters climbed nearly 90 feet using a truck and ladder to place a ring of white flowers on Mary’s outstretched arm, continuing a Roman tradition that began in 1949.

Reciting his prayer while seated, the pope asked Mary to “turn your merciful eyes on all people oppressed by injustice and poverty, tried by war.”

“Look at the martyred Ukrainian people, at the Palestinian people, at the Israeli people, plunged back into the spiral of violence,” he said.

The pope entrusted to Mary’s care the “many mothers who, as happened to you, are grieving. Mothers who mourn their children killed by war and terrorism.”

During his prayer on last year’s feast day, Pope Francis began weeping when he mentioned the suffering of the Ukrainian people during his prayer.

Pope Francis: “Today, Mary, we need you as a woman, to entrust to you all of the women who have suffered violence and who are still victims. Dry, we pray, their tears and those of their loved ones.”

At noon on the feast day, the pope prayed the Angelus with some 10,000 visitors while standing in the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square. On the two previous Sundays, Pope Francis had led the prayer from his residence in the Vatican due to his infection.

Wearing a white coat at the window and seeming to speak without difficulty, the pope recalled how Mary was “amazed” when an angel told her she would become pregnant with Jesus and how she always remained faithful to God in simple ways—attitudes that demonstrate her sinless heart.

Mary, the pope said, “is presented as a simple girl” in the Bible, but one who “precisely because of her simplicity, kept pure that immaculate heart with which, by God’s grace, she had been conceived.”

After praying the Angelus, the pope announced that the Catholic Church will celebrate the first World Day of Children in Rome May 25-26, 2024, to respond to the question: “What type of world do we want to transmit to the children who are growing up?”

“Like Jesus, we want to put children at the center and take care of them,” he said.

In the afternoon, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome where he prayed before the before the Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” (”health of the Roman people”) before going to the Spanish Steps. He left a silver vase with three gold roses in front of the icon.

Praying at the Spanish Steps, the pope asked Mary to care for the mothers who see their children “leave on journeys of desperate hope,” and mothers who try to free their children “from the bonds of addiction.”

“Today, Mary, we need you as a woman, to entrust to you all of the women who have suffered violence and who are still victims,” he said. “Dry, we pray, their tears and those of their loved ones.”

Pope Francis asked Mary to show everyone the path to conversion, “because there is no peace without forgiveness and there is no forgiveness without repentance.”

“The world changes if hearts change, and each person should say: ‘starting with my own,’” he said.

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