“Is Rome preparing to become a city of hope during the Holy Year?” asked Pope Francis in his final address of 2023, during the First Vespers of the Solemnity of St. Mary Mother of God, celebrated this December 31 in the late afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica. With a view to the Jubilee of 2025, Pope Francis recalled that 2024 has been designated as a “a whole year dedicated to prayer.”
In his homily, Pope Francis explained that the praying of the Te Deum marking the end of the calendar year breathes the atmosphere of “praise, surprise, gratitude,” which are highlighted “not because of the majesty of the basilica, not because of the lights and the songs” but because of the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation in Mary’s womb, recalled in the texts for this January 1 solemnity.
“Let’s think of what gratitude must have been in Mary’s heart when she looked at the newborn Jesus,” Francis remarked. “It’s an experience that only a mother can have, and yet in her, in the Mother of God, it has a unique, incomparable depth,” said the Pope, noting the very concrete nature of the unprecedented responsibility that rested on the Virgin’s shoulders. “Mary, alone with Joseph, knows where this child comes from. Yet here he is, breathing, crying, needing to eat, to be covered, to be protected,” he reflected.
Francis noted that Mary’s attitude was not one of “optimism” but of “hope,” that is, “faith in God who is faithful to his promises.” The theme of the 2025 Jubilee is “Pilgrims of Hope.”
City of hope
Francis urged Rome’s “ecclesial and civil community” to make it “a city of hope” through “a witness which, more than in events, consists in lifestyle, in the ethical and spiritual quality of life in common.”
In a city marked by a recurring crisis in transport policy and garbage collection, the Pope invited everyone to work “so that this city may be a sign of hope for those who live in it and for those who visit it.”
Calling for tourists and pilgrims to be welcomed to the Vatican, the Pope also urged the cooperation of city authorities. “The charm of Rome’s historic center is eternal and universal, but it must also be accessible to the elderly or those with motor disabilities, and it is necessary that ‘great beauty’ be accompanied by simple decorum and normal functionality in the places and situations of ordinary, everyday life. For a city that is more liveable for its inhabitants is also more welcoming for everyone,” insisted the Pope, in the presence of the Mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri, whom he personally greeted at the end of the celebration.
After the liturgy, the 87-year-old Pope, who appeared to be full of energy, made his way outside to St. Peter’s Square to greet the faithful gathered around the nativity scene, and spend time contemplating the image, which this year recalls the first nativity, created by St. Francis of Assisi 800 years ago.