Yesterday, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Father traveled to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to pray at the statue of Mary Immaculate. Gathered in the square packed with thousands, the Pope prayed that Christians be given the courage to become “the soul of the world at this difficult moment of history.”
Upon arriving at the square, the Holy Father blessed a basket of roses and placed them at the foot of a column bearing Mary’s statue, according to tradition.
The Pope then spoke to the crowd about his visit last September to Lourdes, France for the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Mary to Bernadette Soubirous. The anniversary celebrations, which lasted throughout 2008, ended yesterday, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
"Belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception existed many centuries before the Lourdes apparitions," he explained, adding that the apparitions were a “divine seal” to Blessed Pius IX’s declaration of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854 as a dogma of the Church.
The Pope continued by reminding the audience that it is through Mary that we recognize "the 'smile of God',” and find “new hope amidst the problems and dramas of the world."
He went on to explain the significance of the roses. “All roses have their thorns which for us represent the difficulties, sufferings and evils that have marked and continue to mark the lives of individuals and of our communities. To a mother we present our joys but we also entrust our concerns, certain of finding in her the comfort not to lose heart and the support to continue our journey,” he added.
The Pope then entrusted to Mary "the 'smallest' of our city: first and foremost children, especially those who are seriously ill, the disadvantaged,” those in difficult family situations, the elderly who are alone, immigrants striving to make ends meet, and those who are unemployed.
He continued in prayer, “Mary, teach us to show solidarity towards those in difficulty, to bridge the ever-increasing social disparities; help us to cultivate a more lively sense of the common good, of respect for the common well-being, and to make our contribution for a more just and united society.”
"Your beauty," Pope Benedict said, "ensures us that the victory of love is possible, indeed that it is certain. It assures us that grace is stronger than sin and that hence redemption from any form of slavery is possible. Mary, you help us to believe in goodness more trustingly; you encourage us to remain vigilant and not to give in to the temptation of facile forms of evasion, to face reality with courage and responsibility.”
"Be a loving mother to our young people, that they may have the courage to be 'sentinels of the morrow'," the Pope concluded, "and give this virtue to all Christians that they may become the soul of the world at this difficult moment of history.”