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Vatican conference highlights role of laity in addressing modern challenges

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 03:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leading lay experts and top Vatican officials have joined forces this week to talk about how they can collaborate in addressing key areas of modern concern, placing a special emphasis on the role of laypeople.

“Even before the (Second) Vatican Council, the conviction of the Church was that lay involvement in certain spheres of life, particularly political and social, was absolutely indispensable,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher told CNA Dec. 11.

The importance of the laity “is quite clear even more today,” he said, explaining that without their activity and social and political advocacy, the Church would lose its voice.

“It is absolutely key, crucial, for the future of the Church's engagement with society that laypeople should be prepared to do this, should be courageous in doing it, and should have this great will to bring the voice of Christ now in the political sphere and social sphere, on a local level and an international level,” he said.

“I think they can do a great service to the Church and to the world in this way,” he said, adding that “any form of engagement” is encouraged.

Msgr. Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, spoke before celebrating Mass on the opening night of a Dec. 11-13 conference organized by the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs, titled “Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World.”

The conference, which drew a slew of representatives from various NGOs around the world, including non-Catholics, focused on how Catholic-inspired organizations can help safeguard core values such as family and religious freedom, and ensure the that a proper integral human development is achieved in the context of a rapidly changing global society.

In his speech for the conference, Gallagher said the Holy See and Catholic-inspired NGOs can work together to achieve “the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.”

He stressed that the Holy See isn't “controlling” the forum, but that rather, the members and leaders of the NGOs are the real protagonists, since they bring “real life experiences and expertise” to the table through their work.

Among those “protagonists” present for the conference was Helen Alvare, a professor of family law, law and religion, and property law at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University. She is also the cofounder of the “Women Speak for Themselves” organization, the president of “Reconnect Media” non-profit communications group, and an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

In comments to CNA, Alvare also stressed the importance of the role of laity, specifically women and the poor, in advocating key issues in the Church, especially in regards to the family.

Through the organizations she is involved with, Alvare focuses on giving voice to people on the grassroots level and empowering them to have a greater role in the push for both religious freedom and the family values lost in the sexual revolution. The hope is to show that questions on sexuality “cannot be separated from issues about economic well-being and poverty and human happiness.”

Pope Francis has been a leading voice advocating for women and the poor, Alvare said.  However, while the Pope has set “a wonderful tone” on these issues, she believes that “one of the signs of the times is that it cannot come from top down in the Church.”

“No matter how lovely a tone Pope Francis sets on empowering women and the poor, when the subject matter turns to sex, marriage and parenting, the powers that be don't want to hear from him or the Church in any level,” she said.

Rather, the argument needs to come from those who have supposedly been empowered by the sexual revolution – laity, and especially lay women.

When the Church hierarchy joins forces with laity and religious on the ground, they can have a powerful effect, Alvare said, and this includes reaching the people taken in by the agenda of the sexual revolution.

Speaking of the partnership the Holy See can have with NGOs and the people who run them, Gallagher in his speech highlighted several key areas of collaboration, the first being to advance the 2030 sustainable development goals, which Pope Francis has called “an important sign of hope” and which in large part are aimed at ending poverty, protecting the environment, and promoting education.

He also pointed to the issues of forced migration and displacement resulting in “unprecedented population shifts,” giving specific mention to the 2018 U.N. global compacts on migration and refugees.

Other major areas of concern, he said, are climate change and the promotion of an integral human ecology; the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes concern for religious discrimination and persecution; and freedom of expression, as well as the freedom to convert.

While the global landscape in light of these issues might seem “immense and complex,” Gallagher said it is also promising, because the efforts that appear to be small are capable of “developing and achieving ends for the benefit of the common good of all.”

In a brief Q&A after his talk, Gallagher encouraged members of NGOs to be active and involved in the debate on relevant issues in their competence, keeping the papal representatives in the loop on the discussion and seeking advice or input from the Holy See when needed.

“Part of the thing about autonomy, is one shouldn't be waiting for instructions,” he said. “It's about working together, its about collaborative ministry together,” he said, adding that it's not about “a voice coming from on high saying, 'Do a,b,c'.”  

Responding to a question on his advice for Catholic doctors and medical personnel who work with Catholic-inspired medical organizations, Gallagher said the most important traits needed today are “great courage and sacrifice.”

Part of this courage also means exercising the right to follow their conscience. “We expect you to assert the rights of your conscience and that of your more vulnerable colleagues,” he said, adding that the role of the conscience for those working in the medical field right now “is absolutely fundamental.”

Analysis: What the Vatican does to stop money laundering

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 01:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee has praised the Holy See’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Information Authority, in a report published last week.

The report noted the progress the Holy See has made in establishing an effective reporting system for suspect transactions, and in its international cooperation with investigation and reporting of financial irregularities. The report recommended that the financial authority “actively pursue” pending criminal cases of money laundering.

Moneyval is the Council of Europe’s “Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.” It evaluates how financial systems in European states work to counter money laundering and stop the flow of funds to organizations connected to terrorism.
 
The progress report is part of the Moneyval’s regular evaluation procedure, which it conducts for all members.

The Holy See applied to Moneyval in 2011, after issuing its first anti-money laundering legislation. Moneyval issued a general “mutual evaluation report” on the Holy See and Vatican City State in July 2012. That evaluation called for improvements to the Holy See’s financial oversight procedures, which the Vatican has since pursued.
 
After the first general report, each state is called to report on its progress the year after the general evaluation, and to submit subsequent progress reports every two years.

The Holy See submitted a progress report in 2013, 2015 and now in 2017. The next report will be submitted in 2019, and it is expected that there will be an on site visit by Moneyval inspectors in the course of 2018.
 
The reports’ data confirm that Vatican is now in the third phase of implementing effective protections against money laundering.
 
The first phase, “the assumption of responsibility,” led to a Monetary Convention between the Holy See and European Union in 2009, and Benedict XVI’s motu proprio that established the first Vatican anti-money laundering laws at the end of 2010.
 
The second phase was “debugging financial transparency reforms.” The Vatican’s anti-money laundering law was amended and substantially re-written, and this led to a generally positive evaluation by Moneyval. In 2013, the Vatican financial system was furtherly improved with the issuance of additional laws and policies.
 
The third and current phase is that of improving the effectiveness of the system.
 
The progress report highlights a sort of “two speed” situation for Vatican financial reforms. While the overall system is working, the court system still needs to be developed, as reports on suspected money laundering did not lead to prosecutions.
 
Both Monyeval and Holy See Press Office releases acknowledge that the Holy See’s Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) has carried out a significant work in the past two years.
 
According to Moneyval, the Holy See “has established a functioning reporting system.”
 
“In the past two years,” a Dec. 8 Moneyval release said, “the Holy See has established a functioning reporting system. Both the AIF and the judicial authorities have sought and were responding to international cooperation requests in their work.”
 
The AIF has established 24 new Memoranda of Understanding with foreign financial intelligence units and 4 new Memorandum of Understanding with supervisory authorities.
 
The Holy See recieved 380 requests for cooperation from foreign authorities in 2015, a number that increased to 837 in 2016, probably due to the Institute for Religious Works remediation process that led to the closure of about 4,800 IOR accounts. In 2017, the number of international cooperation requests decreased to a total of 104.
 
Beyond the data on international cooperation, the report also provides data about money laundering investigations.  
 
Since Jan. 2013, the report says, “69 disseminations to the Promoter have been made by AIF where money laundering was suspected”. The Promoter for Justice – the Vatican prosecutor – opened 27 criminal distinct investigations out of the 69 AIF disseminations.
 
Of those investigations, 8 investigations “have been closed formally without any charges”, while 6 investigations concluded without an indictment and their formal closure has been requested. There are currently 8 criminal investigation open as money laundering investigations.
 
These facts also bring to light the main problem highlighted by the Moneyval report.
 
The Moneyval report noted that “the Holy See had still not brought a money laundering case to court”.
 
The committee stressed that “while considerable amounts of assets continued to be frozen, no criminal case had yet produced a confiscation order.”  For this reason.  “Moneyval recommends the Holy See ensure that the money laundering aspects of all outstanding investigations in criminal cases by proactively pursued”.
 
“In this regard, the committee noted that the overall effectiveness of the Holy See’s engagement with combating money laundering depends on the results that will be achieved by the prosecution and the courts,” the release concluded.
 
However, there have been steps forward on the side of the Holy See’s judicial system that show how the Vatican is working to meet the requirements of its new money-laundering laws.
 
A Holy See Press Office release delivered Dec. 8 underscored that Moneyval welcomed “the creation of a specialized Economic Financial Crimes Investigation Unit within the Corps of the Gendarmerie and the appointment of a specialized Assistant Promoter of Justice.”
 
These two steps are crucial in making of the Vatican City State judicial system more prompt in prosecuting suspect money laundering cases.
 
It must be clear that the report is not about particular cases, and does not review any internal problem. Without naming them, the report describes five cases of Vatican trials that involved financial issues – some of them more recognizable, and some of them not.
 
But Moneyval is called to assess if the financial system to counter money laundering and financing of terrorism works, and not to judge on singular cases. The report is not in any way related to situations like, for instance, the recent firing of Giulio Mattietti, adjunct director to the IOR, which led to much speculation on the state of Vatican finances reforms.

It was a positive sign that the Vatican’s progress report was approved within Moneyval’s regular process. Otherwise, the Vatican would have had to submit a new report in a future plenary session.

The committee’s approval shows that the Holy See’s commitment, despite needed improvements, is welcome and appreciated by its European neighbors.
 
Moneyval’s progress report said that, despite some things that need to be fixed, the Holy See’s commitment to financial transparency, started under Benedict XVI, meets international standards, despite the unique reality of the Vatican City State and Holy See’s mission.
 
For the Vatican, finances are just a tool to carry out the mission of evangelization, and not an end in themselves. 

Pope Francis: Health care is part of the Church’s mission

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 06:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just as Jesus healed people during his earthly mission, care for the sick is a mission the entire Church is called to take part in, Pope Francis said in a message published Monday for the World Day of the Sick.

“Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power…The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion,” the Pope wrote in a message published Dec. 11.

“Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions.”

“Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission.”

The World Day of the Sick will be celebrated Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, with the theme: “Mater Ecclesiae: ‘Behold, your son... Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).”

Reflecting on the scripture passage from which the theme was taken, Francis explained how John, as a close disciple of Jesus, could testify to the fact that Christ healed many people suffering from both spiritual and physical illnesses.

Jesus, he said, “healed the sick as a sign of the abundant life of the Kingdom, where every tear will be wiped away.”

The disciples know that Jesus’ heart is “open to all and excludes no one. The Gospel of the Kingdom must be proclaimed to all, and the charity of Christians must be directed to all, simply because they are persons, children of God.”

Pointing to the Church’s long history of care for the sick, including innumerable initiatives, Francis said we cannot forget this “history of dedication,” which continues “to the present day throughout the world.”

In countries with adequate public health care systems, Catholic religious congregations and dioceses and their hospitals provide quality medical care that puts the human person at the center, also carrying out scientific research that fully respects life and Christian moral values, he said.

And in countries with inadequate, or even non-existent, health care systems, the Catholic Church works to improve health, eliminate infant mortality and combat widespread disease.

“In some parts of the world, missionary and diocesan hospitals are the only institutions providing necessary care to the population,” he noted.

This is all a cause for rejoicing within the Christian community, but we also need to take that long legacy and use it to help us build a better future, he stressed. Especially in cases where Catholic hospitals fall prey to the business mentality that seeks to turn health care “into a profit-making enterprise, which ends up discarding the poor.”

“Wise organization and charity demand that the sick person be respected in his or her dignity, and constantly kept at the center of the therapeutic process,” he said.

“May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the Church may live with love the vocation to serve life and health.”

Vatican voices concern over Trump's Jerusalem move

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2017 / 09:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 notice that he will be moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Holy See has expressed its concern for recent violent outbreaks and urged leaders to promote peace and security. 

A Vatican communique Dec. 10 pointed to concerns for peace and security in Jerusalem and reiterated its belief that “only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace,” as well as “guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two states within internationally recognized borders.”

The brief statement was published just days after the news broke that President Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a widely controversial decision that has provoked a mixed reaction from the international community.

The Vatican said it is watching the development of the situation closely, especially in Jerusalem, which is a “Sacred city for Christians, Jews and Muslims from all over the world.”

The statement also reiterated the Holy See’s position on the importance of maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem, as per the repeated requests of the international community, and the hierarchies of the Catholic and Christian communities of the Holy Land.

Renewing an appeal made by Pope Francis during his general audience on Dec. 6, the statement reiterated the Pope's “fervent prayers” for national leaders, that they be committed to promoting peace, justice and security and averting “a new spiral of violence” in the nation.

Israel has traditionally always recognized Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinians claim that the eastern portion of the city is the capital of the future Palestinian state. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. is the first country to do so since the state was established in 1948.

Debate on the issue is in many ways the crux of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which is backed by Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia, and the wider Islamic world.

According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is to be discussed in the late stages of peace talks. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized by the international community, and all countries with diplomatic relations have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

More than 30 Palestinians have been injured in clashes across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip amid protests against Trump’s decision.

The position of the U.N. on the Jerusalem issue is that East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, and that the city should eventually become the capital of the two states of Israel and Palestine.

The Vatican has long supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and on a diplomatic level recognizes and refers to both “the State of Israel” and “the State of Palestine.”

In Advent, prepare your heart like your hearth, Pope says

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2017 / 05:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During Advent, we should prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus like we joyfully prepare our homes for a visit from a family member or friend, Pope Francis said Sunday, especially removing anything keeping us from Christ.

“When we await at home a visit from a loved one, we prepare everything with care and happiness. In the same way we want to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord: to wait for him every day with solicitude, to be filled with his grace when he comes,” the Pope said Dec. 10.

In his weekly Angelus address, Francis reflected on the day’s first reading from Isaiah, which says to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.”

The Pope pointed out that the valleys in this passage can represent our sins of omission, such as failing to pray, or praying very little. The valleys could also be the ways we have failed to have charity toward others, especially those most in need of material or spiritual help.

In Advent, “we are called to be more attentive to the needs of others, those closest (to us). Like John the Baptist, in this way we can open roads of hope in the desert of the dry hearts of many people,” he said.

Therefore, Advent is a good time to fill these valleys in our life, he said; to pray more intensely, to prioritize your spiritual life.

On the other hand, when the verse says, “every mountain and every hill be lowered,” we are reminded of our faults of pride, arrogance and superiority, which must become attitudes of meekness and humility, just like our Savior is “meek and humble of heart.”

Then, when we’ve examined our conscience, “we are asked to eliminate all the obstacles we put into our union with the Lord” with joy, he said, because we are preparing for the coming of our Savior.

“The Savior we are waiting for is able to transform our life with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the power of love. Indeed, the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts the love of God, an inexhaustible source of purification, of new life and freedom,” Francis said.

May the Virgin Mary, he concluded, who prepared for the coming of Christ with her whole being and existence, “help us to follow her example and guide our steps to meet the Lord who is coming.”

Pope Francis says Our Father is poorly translated

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a video series for Italian television network TV2000, Pope Francis said that “lead us not into temptation” is a poorly translated line of the Our Father.

“This is not a good translation,” the Pope said in the video, published Dec. 6. “I am the one who falls, it's not (God) who pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall. A father doesn't do this, a father helps us to get up right away.”

He noted that this line was recently re-translated in the French version of the prayer to read “do not let me fall into temptation.”

The Latin version of the prayer, the authoritative version in the Catholic Church, reads “ne nos inducas in tentationem.”

The Pope said that the one who leads people into temptation “is Satan; that is the work of Satan.” He said that the essence of that line in the prayer is like telling God: “when Satan leads me into temptation, please, give me your hand. Give me your hand.”

Just as Jesus gave Peter his hand to help him out of the water when he began to sink, the prayer also asks God to “give me your hand so that I don't drown,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope made his comments in the seventh part of the “Our Father” television series being aired by Italian television network TV2000.

Filmed in collaboration with the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, the series consists of nine question-and-answer sessions with Pope Francis and Fr. Marco Pozza, a theologian and a prison chaplain in the northern Italian city of Padua.

In each of the sessions, Fr. Pozza asks the Pope about a different line in the Our Father prayer, and the Pope offers his insights. A preview of the series was presented at the Vatican's Film Library by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano, head of the Secretariat for Communications.

The show also led to the publication of a book titled “Our Father,” which was released by the Vatican Publishing House and Italian publisher Rizzoli Nov. 23, and is based on Pozza's conversations with the Pope in the video series.

Each of the first eight episodes of the series begin with an excerpt from conversation between the Pope and Pozza, which is followed by a second conversation between Pozza and another guest. The final episode will consist of the priest's entire conversation with Pope Francis.

In his question to Pope Francis on the line “lead us not into temptation,” Pozza noted that many people have asked him how God can lead someone into temptation, and questioned what the phrase actually intends to say.

The question is one of the reasons the French bishops decided to make a request for a new translation of the Our Father that they believe conveys the meaning more clearly.

According to the French episcopal conference, the decision to make the change was accepted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in June 2013.

The new translation, released Dec. 3 to mark the first day of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, now reads “ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation,” meaning, “do not let us fall into temptation,” versus the former “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,” or “lead us not into temptation.”

The Pope’s remarks do not change the translations of liturgical texts. Such a change would begin with a resolution by an episcopal conference in English-speaking countries.

In a previous episode of the “Our Father” series, Pope Francis said “it takes courage” to recite the prayer, because it means calling on someone else and truly believing that “God is the Father who accompanies me, forgives me, gives me bread, is attentive to everything I ask, and dresses me better than wildflowers.”

“To believe is a great risk,” and means daring to make the leap of faith, he said. Because of this, “praying together is so beautiful: because we help each other to dare.”

Vatican nativity scene, Christmas tree unveiled

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 08:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an inauguration ceremony Thursday, the Vatican officially unveiled this year’s nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, also lighting the 69-foot Christmas tree for the first time this year.

In an audience with the tree and nativity donors Dec. 7, Pope Francis reflected on the symbolism found in the two Christmas traditions, which he said are “signs of the compassion of the heavenly Father, of his participation and closeness to humanity” even in its “very difficulties.”  

The branches of the tree, “reaching upward,” remind us to reach for “the highest gifts,” he explained. And in “the simplicity of the crib we meet and contemplate the tenderness of God” as manifested in the Child Jesus.

This year’s Vatican nativity scene was created by artisans in a local workshop and donated by an ancient Benedictine Abbey, the Sanctuary of Montevergine, which lies near Naples.

A special detail of this year’s scene: in one corner hangs a replica of the icon of Our Lady of Montevergine, a nod to the abbey which donated it. The original image, which is 12 feet tall, hangs in the chapel of the Sanctuary of Montevergine.

Outside of the traditional nativity figures of Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, the Wise Men, shepherds, an angel, and animals, the other figures are represented in the act of performing the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy, such as burying the dead, visiting the imprisoned, and clothing the naked.

The approximately 6 1/5-foot-tall figures are made of colored terracotta and dressed in traditional eighteenth-century Neapolitan costumes. The whole scene is built on a platform about 861-square-feet in size.

In a change from past years, this one includes a technological element; visitors can connect to a special Wi-Fi access point in St. Peter’s Square and scan a QR code to watch a video to learn more about the nativity.

The Christmas tree is a northern European tradition which has only recently become more common in Italy. The tradition to have a tree in St. Peter’s Square was begun by St. John Paul II in 1982.

This year’s tree, which comes from Poland, is 69-feet tall and about 60 years old. Its tip was lost when it was struck by lightning several years ago.

It was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk and cut down by a local forestry service, which transported it by truck over more than 1200 miles in 12 days to reach Rome, traveling mostly by night, when traffic is less dense.

The ornaments which decorate the spruce were created by children with cancer and their parents from several hospitals in Italy, as well as by children from Italian zones affected by earthquakes the past two years.

The ornaments were created in clay by the children and then reproduced using synthetic materials which can stand up to the weather in St. Peter’s Square.

The nativity and tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until Jan. 7, 2018, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Beauty advice from Pope Francis: Be virtuous like Mary

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 04:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis offered his own ‘beauty secret’ – with Mary as model – saying beauty does not come from age or appearance, but from living a virtuous life rooted in scripture.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, though a simple and humble person, “lived a beautiful life,” the Pope said Dec. 8, asking “what was her secret?”

The answer can be found in the story of the Annunciation, he said. “In many paintings, Mary is depicted sitting in front of the angel with a small book. The book is scripture.”

“The Word of God was her secret: close to her heart, it then took flesh within her womb. Remaining with God, dialoguing with Him in every circumstance, Mary made her life beautiful.”

In his special Angelus address for the feast day, Pope Francis emphasized that what makes someone’s life beautiful is “not appearance, not what passes, but the heart focused on God.”

Francis noted how Mary came from a simple family and lived in a humble fashion in Nazareth, which was an almost unknown village. She was not famous. “Our Lady did not even have a comfortable life,” he said. Yet the angel greets her with the words, “hail, full of grace!”

The Church extols the Mother of God as “all beautiful,” or “tota pulchra,” in Latin, the Pope continued. This is because her beauty is not found in her outward appearance, but in her total freedom from sin.

“There is only one thing that really does grow old: not age, but sin,” he emphasized. “Sin makes (us) old, because it fossilizes the heart. It closes it, makes it inert, it makes it fade. But the (woman) full of grace is empty of sin.”

Let us ask for her help to remain free of sin, he concluded, so that we too can live a beautiful life, saying “yes,” to God.

After reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis noted how later in the afternoon he will visit Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to venerate the statue of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the Spanish Steps.

He asked those gathered to join him spiritually in this act, “which expresses filial devotion to our heavenly Mother.”

The statue of Our Lady, which sits atop a nearly 40-foot-high column, was dedicated Dec. 8, 1857, just a few years after the Catholic Church adopted the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Since the 1950s, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The statue is usually adorned with homages of flowers hung in the form of wreaths around Mary’s outstretched arms and laid at the base of the statue. Early in the morning Dec. 8, firemen placed a large wreath of white and yellow flowers upon Mary’s arm, reaching the statue with the ladder from a firetruck.

During his visit Pope Francis will place flowers at the base of the statue and recite a short prayer to Our Lady, made on behalf of the people who live in Rome.

After the visit to Piazza di Spagna, the Pope is scheduled to stop at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where he will venerate the image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani.

St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli

Born in Genoa Italy on April 2, 1587, Virginia was raised in an aristocratic family which was nonetheless pious, and from a young age she longed to consecrate herself to God in the religious life. However, she was pressured into an arranged marriage at the age of 15 on account of her social status, and had two daughters.Her husband, a drinker and gambler, died after only five years of marriage, and Virginia dedicated her time to raising her children, prayer and works of charity, which she devoted herself to entirely once her children had grown up, caring for the sick, elderly and abandoned.She founded a refuge center in Genoa in 1625, which soon became overrun with the needy, and she rented an empty convent in 1631 where she cared for the sick with the help of other women, and she instructed the women in the faith in addition to thier work.She constructed a church dedicated to Our Lady of Refuge, and soon the women who worked with her in the hospital were formed into two congregations: the Sisters of Our Lady of Refuge in Mount Calvary, and the Daughters of Our Lady on Mount Calvary.Victoria retired from the administration of the orders, and performed manual labour and begged for alms, but was called back to administrative duties soon after.She began to receive visions and locutions in the later years of her life. She died in Genoa on December 15, 1651 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 18, 2003.