Rome’s Franciscans to provide ‘blessing from afar’ on Immaculate Conception feast

CNA 5c11ae5ce657f 149225 The statue of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Conventual Franciscans said they will be present at a statue of the Immaculate Conception in the center of Rome to offer a "blessing from afar" to families who pass by on the feast day.

Despite pandemic regulations curtailing some Rome customs for the Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Franciscan friars will be praying at the base of the statue throughout the day.

Franciscan Fr. Agnello Stoia encouraged people to avoid gathering at the Marian statue because of COVID-19, but said that "if anyone happens to pass by, we Franciscans guarantee our presence and a blessing from afar."

The Immaculate Conception statue is located in the center of Rome near the famous Spanish Steps. 

Though Pope Francis will not say a prayer at the monument Dec. 8 -- breaking a 66-year-old papal custom -- the Franciscans said that they wanted to be present for passers-by.

The Vatican said Monday that Francis would not be visiting the statue of the Immaculate Conception this year to avoid drawing a crowd which could lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is also a national holiday in Italy. It is common for Romans to visit the statue or attend the papal veneration on the feast day. Rome's firefighters and local officials are usually in attendance.

Despite the canceled event, firefighters will still place a fresh wreath of flowers on Mary's outstretched arm in the early morning Dec. 8. To reach the statue, which sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column, they use the ladder of a firetruck.

"It is important that the fire brigade can truly make this gesture in the name of the whole city, a gesture that is charged with expectation. We ask the Virgin to intercede so that we can be freed from this situation, and return to live in serenity with our loved ones," Fr. Stoia said.

Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, composed a prayer of entrustment to Mary for Catholics to say from home on the solemnity.  

"As you know, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is deeply felt by Italians and in particular by us Romans," the cardinal wrote in a Nov. 24 message.

He asked people to pray in union with Pope Francis "for the people who live in our city, for the end of the pandemic. We place ourselves under the mantle of Our Lady and together with her we cling to the Lord: that we will feel fraternity with everyone grow and our strength to stand up and go on will be renewed."

Cardinals living in Rome are offering Mass every afternoon at the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles during the nine days leading up to the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The novena of Masses, which began Nov. 29, is preceded by the rosary and sung litanies.

De Donatis' prayer, which was inspired by Pope Francis' 2013 apostolic exhortation "Evangelii gaudium," reads:

To you, O Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of the family, we entrust our family in this time of anticipation for Christmas.

You see our joys and our hopes, our sadnesses and our fears. You, who transformed a stable for animals into a home for Jesus with some poor strips of cloth and a mountain of tenderness, help us to welcome him into the simplicity of our home.

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You, who are the little servant of the Father that exults in the faith, help us to lift our praise and our thanks to God. You, who was pierced by the sorrow of the cross, understand all our pains.

As the mother of all, you are a light of hope even in dark times; you are the missionary who draws close to us to accompany us in life, opening our hearts to the faith with maternal affection.

As a true mother, walk with us, sing with us, and constantly deepen in us closeness to the love of God.

We entrust to you grandparents, the elderly, the sick. We entrust to you spouses, parents, sons and daughters. We entrust to you young adults, adolescents, children. We entrust to you those who are in pain or in mourning. We entrust to you the poor and those who are alone.

We are certain that, with your motherly presence, our home will be always overwhelmed by faith and can be a little Church, where we will always recognize the presence of God.   

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