Rome (AsiaNews) – Today the Pope made an appeal to “people of every nation and culture” that they may look upon Mary as the “Star of Hope” that brings light to history’s “darkness” so that they may realise that God is the Father and that we are “all brothers and sisters.”
In the homily he addressed this afternoon near Rome’s Spanish Steps before the statue of the Our Lady, the Pope spoke about the meaning of today’s feast day, the Immaculate Conception. “On this solemn day, the Church presents Mary to the world as a symbol of sure hope and ultimate victory of good over evil. By invoking her ‘full of grace,’ we are reminded that we are all brothers and sisters and that God is our Creator and Father. Should we be without Him or, worse still, go against Him, we human beings can never find the path that leads to love; we can never overcome the power of hatred and violence; we can never build a stable peace.”
The tradition of paying homage to the statue of Our Lady in Rome’s Spanish Steps goes back 150 years. This “act of faith and devotion”, the Pope said, is also an opportunity “to offer those who live in Rome and those who have come for a few days as pilgrims or tourists a chance to feel, despite their many cultures, part of the same family, gathered around a Mother who knows what daily burdens every woman and mother bears.”
The Pontiff arrived at the column around 4 pm. After blessing a basket of roses in a square filled with tens of thousands of pilgrims, he laid them at the foot of the column.
At the beginning of the celebration the weather was bad, but improved as time went by.
In his address Benedict XVI mentioned some of Mary’s human features and her special mission; she who “fulfilled her earthly pilgrimage sustained by a fearless faith, unshakable hope and a humble and boundless love, in the path of her son Jesus.”
She, the Mother of God, “is our Mother! From the cross where he sacrificed himself, Jesus gave her to us as our mother and to Her she entrusted us as her children”.
In a tone without any sugary devotionism, the Pontiff added: “Let us turn and look at Her, dear brothers and sisters, especially today. Imploring her, let us take to heart her maternal teachings. Hasn’t she, as our Mother in Heaven, urged us to avoid evil and do go in docile respect for God’s law, which is inscribed in every Christian’s heart? Hasn’t she, who has kept hope alive in spite of her great trial, called upon us not to lose heart when suffering and death knock at our doors? Hasn’t she told us to look confidently to our future? Hasn’t the Immaculate Virgin exhorted us to be brother and sister to one another, all united by the task of building a fairer, more united and peaceful world?
In the world Mary stands as an example for all Christians as well as all men and women. “The Church presents Mary to the world as a symbol of sure hope and ultimate victory of good over evil.”
After reminding his audience that without God “we can never overcome the power of hatred and violence,” nor can we ever “build a stable peace”, the Pope called upon “people of all nations and cultures” to welcome “this message of light and hope: May they welcome it as a gift from Mary’s hands, Mother of ‘all humanity’.”
Furthermore, says the Pope, “[i]f life is like a road, with the road often falling into darkness, what star might bring light upon it? In my Encyclical Spe Salvi, released at the beginning of Advent, I wrote that the Church turns to Mary and appeals to her as the ‘Star of Hope’ (n. 49). In our voyage together on the sea of history we need ‘lights of hope,’ people who draw light from Christ, that is “people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way” (ibid). And who better than Mary can be our ‘Star of Hope’? She, with her ‘Yes’ and the generous offer of liberty given by the Creator, has give the hope of thousands of years a chance to become reality, to enter this world and its history. In her “God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us”.
Benedict XVI ended the Homily with the following prayer: “Teach us Mary to believe, hope and love with You; show us the path that leads to peace and the kingdom of Jesus. You, Star of Hope, who are anxiously waiting for us in the everlasting light of the eternal homeland, shine upon us and always guide us in everyday life, now and at the hour of our death. Amen!”
At the end of the veneration, the Pope sent his greetings via television to the faithful gathered in the shrines at Lourdes and Fourvière (Lyons).
Today in Lourdes begins the Jubilee celebrating 150 years since the Virgin first appeared to Bernadette. For the occasion the Pope issued a special plenary indulgence to all the visitors to the Pyrenean shrine. In French, the Pontiff said he hoped that “the shrines would be able to develop their vocation as a place for prayer, welcoming those who, through the sacrament of forgiveness, want to find again the path to God.”
Then he greeted “especially young people, joyfully celebrating with lights the feast day of the Immaculate Conception in Fourvière.
Traditionally, every year on the evening of 8 December, houses and windows in Lyons are adorned with small candles in honour of the Virgin. The city was consecrated to Our Lady after escaping the plague in 1643 and avoiding destruction at the hands of the Prussians in 1870.