Pope Francis in surprise visit to Immaculate Conception statue under rain

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna, Rome on Tuesday morning.

The Holy Father paid a private visit to the statue, days after the Vatican announced that Pope Francis would not make his customary public afternoon visit to the site due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Photographs showed Pope Francis standing at the base of the statue with his head bowed and holding a black umbrella. He was surrounded by firefighters who were also in attendance in honor of their role at the statue’s inauguration in 1857.

“At 7 a.m. this morning, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father went to the Spanish Steps for an act of veneration in private to Mary Immaculate,” the press office said.

“At the first light of dawn, in the rain, he laid a bouquet of white roses at the base of the column where the statue of Our Lady stands and he turned to Her in prayer, so that she might watch over Rome and its inhabitants with love, entrusting to Her all those in this city and in the world who are afflicted by sickness and discouragement.”

Pope Francis left the Spanish Steps and traveled to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed before the icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary Protection of the Roman People, the press office said.

He then celebrated Mass in the Chapel of Nativity, before returning to the Vatican.

The statue of the Immaculate Conception, next to Piazza di Spagna, sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column. Since 1953, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue on the feast day. Pope Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles from the Vatican.