Early this afternoon, the Holy Father travelled by popemobile to Rome's Piazza di Spagna to pay his traditional homage before the statue of Mary Immaculate. Along the route, the Holy Father greeted the thousands of people who were lining the streets to see him.
Having reached the monument, a column with a statue of the Virgin standing in front of the recently-restored facade of the Spanish embassy to the Holy See, Benedict laid a basket of roses at the base and read a prayer.
Mary Immaculate, said the Pope, "pursued her earthly pilgrimage borne up by an intrepid faith, an unshakeable hope and a humble and limitless love, following the footsteps of her son Jesus. With maternal solicitude she remained at His side from birth to Calvary where she was present at His crucifixion, full of pain but firm in hope. Subsequently she experienced the joy of the resurrection."
"Does she, our heavenly mother, not invite us to avoid evil and to accomplish good, meekly following the divine love written in every Christian heart? Does she (who kept her own hope alive at the moment of harshest trial) not ask us not to lost hope when suffering and death knock at the door of our homes? Does she not ask us to look trustingly to our future? Does the Immaculate Virgin not exhort us to be brothers to one another, joined by the commitment to build together a more just, united and peaceful world?"
The Pope highlighted how the Virgin "reminds us that we are all brothers and that God is our Creator and our Father. Without Him – or, worse still, against Him – we human beings will never be able to find the road that leads to love, we will never be able to defeat the power of hatred and violence, we will never be able to build a stable peace."
In this context, Benedict XVI went on to exhort "people of all nations and cultures" to accept "this message of light and hope," to accept it "as a gift from the hands of Mary, mother of all humanity.
"If life is a voyage," he added, "and this voyage is often dark, difficult and wearisome, what star can illuminate it?" Referring to his own recent Encyclical "Spe salvi," he went on: "in our joint voyage over the sea of history we have need of 'lights of hope,' that is of people who draw light from Christ 'and so guide us along our way.'
"And who better than Mary," the Holy Father asked in conclusion, "can be a 'Star of Hope' for us? With her 'yes,' with the generous offer of the freedom she received from the Creator, she enabled the hope of millennia to become reality and to enter into this world and its history."
Before concluding the ceremony, Benedict XVI addressed some words in French to pilgrims gathered in the Marian shrines of Lourdes and Fourviere in France, for the beginning of the jubilee year marking the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.