ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis prayed that people would never be indifferent to the cries of the poor, the suffering of the sick, the loneliness of the elderly and the fragility of children.
"May every human life always be loved and venerated by all of us," he prayed on the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8.
Pope Francis marked the feast day with a traditional afternoon visit to a statue of Mary erected near the Spanish Steps.
He traveled between the Vatican and the heart of Rome's tourist and shopping district riding in the passenger front seat of a four-door Ford Focus sedan. The visit was to pay homage to Mary by praying before the statue, which commemorates Pope Pius IX's proclamation in 1854 that Mary, by special divine favor, was without sin from the moment she was conceived.
The pope offered a large basket of white roses trimmed with a white- and yellow-striped ribbon decorated with the pope's coat-of-arms. The basket was set among scores of other floral arrangements at the foot of the column topped by the statue.
While he did not give a speech or make any formal remarks to the crowds gathered for the event, he spoke from a prepared prayer asking that Mary would renew in everyone the desire to be holy, charitable, pure and chaste and to speak words that "glow with the splendor of truth."
Standing before the statue, he asked Mary to "help us stay attentive to listen to the Lord's voice: that the cry of the poor never leave us indifferent, that the suffering of the sick and those in need not find us distracted, that the solitude of the elderly and the fragility of children may move us" and that everyone seek to love and respect every human life.
At the end of the prayers, Pope Francis kissed, hugged, greeted and blessed a long line of people in wheelchairs and their caregivers. He received a few individual white roses from people and a few notes and presents.
After the ceremony, he stopped at Rome's Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray before the basilica's famous Marian icon "Salus Populi Romani" (health of the Roman people).
Reciting the Angelus earlier in the day to the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope said Mary never strayed from the love and plan that God had for her even when accepting that plan fully "was certainly not easy for her."
However, God's love and plan for Mary, he said, are not something "alien" or irrelevant to the rest of humanity, despite the presence of sin.
God wants and chooses everyone to be holy and immaculate, he said. "All along, we, too, have been chosen by God to live a holy life free from sin. It is a plan of love that God renews every time we approach him, especially in the sacraments."
Pope Francis asked that, in contemplating Mary, people recognize their true destiny and vocation: "to be loved and transformed by love."
May people look to Mary "to learn how to be more humble and also more courageous in following the Word of God and for accepting the tender embrace of her son, Jesus, an embrace that gives us life, hope and peace," he said.
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