Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic World News

Pope makes surprise trip to honor Immaculate Conception

December 08, 2020

Pope Francis made a surprise trip across the city of Rome on December 8, to pray privately before the statue of the Virgin Mary on the Piazza di Spagna.

Traditionally the Pope pays homage to the Virgin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in a public ceremony at this statue, located near the Spanish Steps. However, late in November the Vatican announced that the ceremony would not be held “to avoid all risk of contagion.” The Pope would make a private act of devotion, the announcement said.

Instead, without any prior public notice, the Pontiff crossed the city early in the morning, and stood in the rain to make that “private act.” The Vatican news office reported:

At the first light of dawn, in the rain, he placed a bouquet of white roses at the foot of the column where the statue of the Virgin is located and turned to her in prayer, so that she may watch with love over Rome and its inhabitants, entrusting all those who in this city and in the world are afflicted by illness and discouragement to her.

Leaving the Piazza di Spagna, Pope Francis then went to the basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed in silence before his favorite Marian icon, the image of Maria Salus Populi Romani. Then he celebrated Mass for the feast day in the crypt of the basilica.

The statue of the Virgin at the foot of the Spanish Steps was installed in 1857, at the direction of Pope Pius IX, who three years earlier had formally declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma of the Catholic Church. Since that time it has been traditional for the Roman Pontiff to pray before the statue on December 8, with political leaders and hundreds of Catholic believers joining in a public ceremony, usually in the afternoon.

This year, because of fear of Covid infection, the Vatican had announced that the public ceremony would not take place. Most observers had assumed that the Pope would therefore make some act of private devotion inside the walls of the Vatican. So the Pope’s trip across town caught journalists off guard. The weather in Rome—where heavy rain mixed with gusts of wind—and the half-light of the early morning hour added to the drama of the Pope’s surprise visit.


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