ROME (CNS): The statues, paintings and mosaics of Mary found not only in the churches of Rome, but also in its public squares and on street-corner shrines should help the city’s visitors and residents treat each other with more respect, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Marking the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, Pope Benedict rode in the popemobile from the Vatican to the heart of Rome’s tourist and shopping district to pay homage to Mary at a statue erected near the Spanish Steps.
“The mother of God teaches us to open ourselves to the action of God, to see others as he sees them – starting from the heart. And to look upon them with mercy, with love (and) with infinite tenderness, especially those who are most alone, despised and exploited,” the Pope said.
Rome, like any big city, is filled with people who are invisible until some scandal lands them on the front page of the newspaper or the television news where they are “exploited to the very end, as long as the news and images attract attention”, the Pope said.
“It is a perverse mechanism, which unfortunately is hard to resist,” he said. “The city first hides people, then exposes them to the public – without piety, or with false piety.”
But within each person, the Pope said, there was a strong desire “to be accepted as a person and considered a sacred reality because every human story is a sacred story and requires the utmost respect”.
Pope Benedict said that with so many stories of evil and scandal filling the news, it was easy for people to think those things only happened to others. But the little good or little evil that everyone did had an influence on others and contributed to the overall tenor of society, he said.
“Often we lament the pollution of the air, which in certain parts of the city is impossible to breathe. It’s true, the commitment of everyone is necessary to make the city cleaner,” he said.
“But there is another kind of pollution, less perceptible to the senses, but just as dangerous. It is the pollution of the spirit; it makes our faces less smiling, darker, and stops us from greeting each other and looking each other in the eyes.
The Pope said that on the day dedicated to remembering how Mary was preserved from sin, he wanted to honour the many citizens “who have understood that it is useless to condemn, complain and recriminate, but better to respond to evil with good”.
“This changes things; or better, it changes people and, consequently, improves society,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Pope recited the Angelus with visitors gathered in St Peter’s Square for the feast, a major public holiday in Italy.
Pope Benedict said all Christians should rejoice in having Mary as their mother.
“Every time we experience our fragility and temptation, we can turn to her and our hearts will receive light and comfort. Even in the midst of the trials of life, in the storms that shake our faith and hope, we remember that we are her children,” he said.
“The Church itself, even if it is exposed to the negative influences of the world, always finds in her the star which will lead her to follow the route indicated by Christ.”
At the end of the Angelus, the Pope greeted Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate president. The academy promotes academic studies of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and pastoral initiatives in favour of Marian devotion.
The cardinal, seated in a wheelchair, and other members of the academy were in St Peter’s Square for the midday prayer.