On Immaculate Conception, the Madonna as "Victory of Mercy"
Keeping the tradition of his predecessors, as night fell on Rome the Pope made the trek to a packed Piazza di Spagna for the annual "homage" to the Immaculate Conception statue there – a beloved rite among the natives that's become the city's rough equivalent of Santa's arrival at the end of a US Thanksgiving parade, marking the start of the Christmas festivities. Fullvid:
With the wake of last month's Paris attacks (coupled with an ongoing ISIS threat on the Vatican) having spurred a remarkably heavy security operation in Rome for the Holy Year – Italian reports indicated a team of some 3,000 military and police on hand for this morning's opening rites – Francis kept to his preference of working the crowd at length following the brief Marian ritual, walking the length of the square to greet the elderly who lined the throng's front flank in wheelchairs.
For his own tribute to the Immacolata – enshrined atop a pillar in the midst of the city's shopping hub – the Pope's prayer this year touched on refugees, the life of the family and the Year of Mercy now underway:
Virgin Mother,Back at the Vatican, meanwhile, tonight saw a big splash of a spectacle tied to Francis' eco-cyclical Laudato Si and the ongoing global climate change summit in Paris – the projection onto St Peter's Basilica of Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light), a light-show sponsored by a host of environmental groups to encapsulate both the wonders of "our common home" and the dangers facing it....
On this day, the feast of your Immaculate Conception,
I pay homage to you in faith and love
On behalf of God’s holy people who live in this city and diocese.
I come before you in the name of families, with their joys and troubles;
On behalf of children and young people, exposed to life’s challenges;
On behalf of the elderly, laden with age and years of experience;
I come especially
On behalf of the sick, the imprisoned,
And those who struggle.
As a leader I also come here for the sake of all those
Who have come from far-away lands in search of peace and work.
There is space for everyone beneath your cloak,
Because you are the Mother of Mercy.
Your heart is full of tenderness towards all your children:
The tenderness of God, who, by you, became incarnate
And became our brother, Jesus,
Saviour of every man and every woman.
Looking at you, Our Immaculate Mother,
We see the victory of divine mercy
Over sin and all its consequences;
And hope for a better life is reignited within us,
Free from slavery, rancor and fear.
Here, today, in the heart of Rome, we hear your motherly voice
Calling all of us to walk towards that door,
Which represents Christ.
You say to everyone: “Come, come closer, faithful ones;
Enter and receive the gift of mercy;
Do not be afraid, do not be ashamed:
The Father awaits you with open arms.
He will forgive and welcome you into his house.
Come, all those in search of peace and joy.”
We thank you, Immaculate Mother,
Because you do not make us walk along this path alone;
You guide us,
You are near us and help us through every difficulty.
May God bless you, now and forever. Amen.
With the St Peter's Holy Door now open – and as many as 30 million pilgrims projected to pass through it over the next 11 months – on Sunday morning (the day set for the Jubilee's opening in the dioceses of the world), the Pope will push through the portal of Rome's cathedral, St John Lateran, following suit at St Mary Major on the New Year's Day feast of Mary, Mother of God. At St Paul's Outside the Walls, however – where St John Paul II opened the Holy Door in 2000 during an ecumenical prayer service – the honors won't be done by the pontiff, but the basilica's Wisconsin-born archpriest, Cardinal James Harvey, at a Sunday rite.