Statue of Virgin Mary: Pope Francis will not take part in a traditional Dec. 8 public event in central Rome.
On the day, which marks the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the pope usually makes a pilgrimage to a statue of the Virgin Mary near the Spanish steps.
However, this year’s occasion will be different because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Francis will not be venerating the statue this year to avoid any risk of contagion caused by gatherings of people,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement on Monday.
Instead, the pope will offer prayers to the Virgin Mary on behalf of the city of Rome, its inhabitants, and sick people from all over the world “in a private act of devotion,’’ Bruni added.
The pope’s visit to the Spanish steps area, one of Rome’s tourist hotspots, is a tradition that dates back to 1953.
The event usually attracts large crowds.
This year’s pandemic has forced several changes in the papal agenda.
It will be the first time since 1953 that the pope has not offered the traditional veneration of the statue of the Immaculate Conception on the Dec. 8 feast. Bruni said that Francis would not go to the square in order to avoid people gathering and transmitting the virus.
The statue of the Immaculate Conception, next to Piazza di Spagna, sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column. It was dedicated Dec. 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Since 1953, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue for the feast day, in honor of the city of Rome. Pope Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles on foot from the Vatican.
Rome’s firefighters are usually in attendance at the prayer, in honor of their role at the 1857 inauguration of the statue. The mayor of Rome and other officials also attend.
In past years, Pope Francis left floral wreaths for the Virgin Mary, one of which was placed on the outstretched arm of the statue by firefighters. The pope also offered an original prayer for the feast day.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a national holiday in Italy and crowds usually gather at the square to witness the veneration.
As is customary for Marian solemnities, Pope Francis will still lead the Angelus prayer from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square Dec. 8.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Vatican’s papal Christmas liturgies will take place this year without the presence of the public.
In April, he was forced to celebrate Easter with no public in St Peter’s Basilica, and Christmas season services are also expected to take place with no crowds.