Prays at Roman Piazza on Feast of Immaculate Conception

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 8, 2000 (Zenit.org).-
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, John Paul II beseeched the help of Mary for humanity in the third millennium.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the Holy Father knelt before the statue of the Blessed Virgin in Rome´s Piazza Spagna and recited a prayer that he composed especially for the occasion.

This is an event the Pope has repeated every year on Dec. 8, which is at the same time a popular celebration for Romans. Today, when Christmas shopping begins in earnest, people thronged the streets to greet the Pope, who was driven in a convertible.

John Paul II placed a floral wreath at the foot of the statue of the Virgin, when he arrived. The statue was commissioned in 1856 by Pope Pius IX, in remembrance of the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

That doctrine affirms that “the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of God omnipotent and because of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, free from all stain of Original Sin,” as stated by Pius IX in his declaration of the dogma, Dec. 8, 1854.

Surrounded by the crowd, John Paul II knelt in the piazza and recited the words of Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

“Prophetic words of hope that resounded at the dawn of history!” Peter´s successor exclaimed. “They proclaim the victory of Jesus, born of woman, over Satan, prince of this world. … Do these words not summarize, perhaps, the dramatic truth of all man´s history?”

History, he said, “in its deepest reality, is the scene of a terrible struggle against the powers of darkness, a struggle that began at the origin of the world, and that will last, as the Lord says, until the last day. Man, every man, is involved in this all-out confrontation, he must combat without respite to be able to remain united to the good, at the price of great efforts, with the help of God´s grace.”

Turning toward Mary, therefore, he concluded: “We raise our eyes to you and pray that you sustain us in our struggle against evil and our commitment to the good. Keep us under your maternal protection, beautiful and holy Virgin! Help us go forward in the new millennium, adorned with that humility that made you the favorite in the eyes of the Most High. May the fruits of this Jubilee Year not be lost!”

After the ceremony, John Paul II went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, to participate in the most typical expression of Marian devotion of the Catholic Churches of the East. Together with Russian, Ukrainian, Rumanian, Hungarian and Byelorussian Catholics, John Paul II sang the Akathist hymn, which Byzantine liturgy dedicates to the mystery of the Incarnation.

The hymn was sung in several languages, including Greek, Paleoslavic, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Romanian and Arabic. Thus, this hymn, which goes back to the first centuries of Christianity, enabled the Bishop of Rome to pray the hymn that united all Christians, before the great Eastern schism at the beginning of this millennium.

The basilica, first Christian Church dedicated to Mary, was filled with incense and hymns proper to the Russian Churches. In a brief homily, the Pope expressed the hope that Mary “will lead us this coming Christmas to contemplate the mystery of God made man for our salvation!”

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