Pope Francis calls on Catholics to entrust themselves to Our Lady, prays for peace in Ukraine

Pope Francis visits the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. (Photo by Daniel Ibanez, CNA)

By A.C. Wimmer, Catholic News Agency

[Rome – CNA] – On Dec. 8, 2022, Pope Francis publicly visited the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna for the first time in two years.

Marking the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis addressed Mary in prayer: “After two years in which I came to pay homage to you alone on the dawning of the day, today I return to you together with the people of this Church and this city. And I bring you the thanks and supplications of all your children, near and far.“

In 2020 and 2021, the pontiff privately visited early in the morning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and health restrictions.

“You, from heaven where God has received you, see the things of earth far better than we do; but as Mother you listen to our invocations to present them to your Son, to his heart full of mercy,“ Pope Francis prayed Dec. 8.

“Immaculate Virgin, I would have liked today to bring you the thanksgiving of the Ukrainian people for the peace we have long been asking the Lord for. Instead, I have yet to present to you the supplication of the children, of the elderly, of the fathers and mothers, of the young people of that tormented land. But in reality, we all know that you are with them and with all the suffering, just as you were beside the cross of your Son.”

The statue of the Immaculate Conception sits atop a nearly 40-foot-high column.

It was dedicated 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.

Rome’s firefighters are usually in attendance at the prayer, in honor of their role at the 1857 inauguration of the statue. The mayor of Rome and other officials also attend.

The statue is often adorned with homages of flowers hung in the form of wreaths around Mary’s outstretched arms and laid at the statue’s base.

Before venerating the statue of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis on Thursday prayed the Angelus at midday at St. Peter’s Square. He then visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed before the famous icon known as the Salus Populi Romani — Mary, Protection of the Roman People.

In his midday address, Pope Francis spoke about the Gospel reading for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In it, Luke the Evangelist recounts the Annunciation. The visit of the archangel Gabriel, Pope Francis said Dec. 8, reminded Catholics, “We sinners too have received an initial gift that has filled our life, a good greater than anything, an original grace, of which often, however, we are unaware.”

The pontiff invited the faithful to entrust themselves to Our Lady. He reminded Catholics that “Mary, the only human creature without sin in history, is with us in the battle, she is our sister and above all Mother.”