By Francesca Merlo
Pope Francis on Thursday travelled to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna for his customary act of veneration to Our Lady, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception liturgically celebrated on 8 December by the Church.
It is customary for the Holy Father to travel to the Column of the Immaculate Conception on the feast day, though the last two years the visit has been private and very early in the morning in order to adhere to restrictions put in place for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Traditionally, the Pope places a bouquet of white roses at the base of the column and prays for her intercession to help all people in their suffering and struggles.
Prayers for peace, prayers for Ukraine
This year, the Pope focused his prayers, in a special way, on peace in the world, and especially for peace in “martyred” Ukraine.
In praying to Our Lady, the Pope recalled that after two years, he returns to her and, he said, “I bring you the thanks and supplications of all your children, near and far”. The Pope brought the thanksgivings of the young, old, and families, and prayed for peace in Ukraine, even stopping his prayer as he shed a tear at the thought of the troubled land. He also brought forward the prayers of young people for the future, and of young couples, who seek inspiration in the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph.
The Pope concluded his prayer, “looking to you who are without sin,” with the hope that we might “continue to believe and hope that love might conquer hatred, that truth might conquer lies, that pardon might conquer offenses, that peace might conquer war!”
A prayer before Salus Populi Romani
Earlier, on his way to the Column of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Father prayed silently before the icon Salus Populi Romani in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. The icon of the Blessed Mother recalls how the people of Rome were saved from a deadly plague.
The image is said to have been brought back from the Holy Land by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. During the pontificate of Pope St. Gregory the Great, a plague spread throughout Rome, and the Pope carried the image in procession to pray for an end to the plague. When the plague finally ended, the Pope solemnly placed crowns of gold and gems on the heads of Mary and the Child Jesus in the miraculous image.
The Immaculate Conception
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the “singular grace and privilege” by which “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception… in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved from all stain of original sin.”
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was believed by the Church from the very beginning, but was only formally defined in 1854 by Blessed Pope Pius IX. In 1857, a commemorative column was raised in Piazza Mignanelli, close to the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. The tradition of the Pope visiting the square on the feast dates back to 1953.
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