By Seán-Patrick Lovett
Surrounded by crowds of pilgrims, tourists and local Roman residents, the Pope recited a specially composed Prayer to Our Lady in which he asked her, among other things, to help us “rid ourselves of all pride and arrogance and to recognize ourselves for what we really are: small and poor sinners” – but always Mary’s children.
The Pope’s visit to the memorial column dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, included the traditional blessing of a garland of flowers which Roman firemen placed on the statue of Our Lady which dominates the summit of the ancient marble column.
Visit to Basilica of Mary Major
On his way to Piazza di Spagna this year, Pope Francis also stopped to visit the Basilica of St Mary Major where he laid a floral wreath below the icon of Salus Populi Romani, depicting Our Lady and the Christ Child. This is the same image the Pope always prays at both before and after his apostolic journeys abroad.
Before returning to the Vatican later in the afternoon, Pope Francis paid a private visit to the Rome Basilica of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte.
It was here, 175 years ago, that a French Jew by the name of Alphonse Ratisbonne, experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary. At that moment, in the words of the Pope, “from being an atheist and enemy of the Church, he became a Christian”.
Even more so, following his conversion, Alphonse became a Jesuit priest and missionary and ended up cofounding his own religious Congregation dedicated to Our Lady of Sion.