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For the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary today, Pope Francis visited three Marian sites in Rome. In addition to the traditional prayer at Piazza di Spagna next to the Spanish Steps, the pontiff went to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, then to the church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte, the only site of an approved Marian apparition in the Eternal City.
On the afternoon of December 8, a holiday in Italy, the pope first went to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where there is a tradition of venerating the icon of Mary ‘Salus populi romani’—salvation of the Roman people.
Then, for the fifth year in a row, he laid a wreath of white roses at the feet of the statue of the Virgin Mary near the Spanish Steps. He then pronounced a prayer that he had written, and greeted sick and disabled people. The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, was present.
A Gospel passage every day
In his prayer, Peter’s Successor asked Mary to help us develop “antibodies” against the “viruses of our times”: indifference, incivility, fear of what is different and of foreigners, conformism “disguised as transgression,” and resignation in the face of environmental and ethical degradation. He also recommended that everyone read a passage of the Gospel every day, like the Virgin Mary, who “kept the Word in her heart.”
Lastly, Pope Francis talked about how, 175 years ago, in the church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte, Alphonse Ratisbonne—an “atheist and enemy of the Church”—became a Christian. Like him, he pleaded, “strip us of all proud arrogance,” so we can recognize “what we really are: small and poor sinners, but always your children.”
Alphonse Ratisbonne: How a radical atheist became a Catholic priest
In this church near the Spanish Steps, where Pope Francis then went on foot, the Church recognizes that the Virgin Mary appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jew from Strasbourg, in 1842. Ratisbonne converted and became a priest. Together with his brother Theodore, also a convert, he founded the congregation of Our Lady of Sion.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception consists in recognizing that Mary was preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception, in order to be able to receive Christ. This mystery was recognized as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
The surprising day when the devil himself praised Mary’s Immaculate Conception