On Sunday, December 8, Catholics around the world celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Like many non-Catholics, I thought the Immaculate Conception meant that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born; instead it means that she, like only Adam and Eve, was born without original sin.
According to tradition in Rome, Papa Francesco drove to Piazza Mignanelli near the Spanish Steps to lay a wreath at the feet of the Virgin Mary on the Colonna dell’Immaculata (the Column of the Immaculate Conception). Throngs of people gathered in the small piazza for the ceremony—some to celebrate the holy day but most to see the popular pope, who just today was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. But Papa Francesco is not your ordinary pope. After the ceremony, he walked down Via dei Condotti, one of the most expensive streets in the downtown shopping area (probably driving his security staff mad!), before heading to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four Catholic churches in Rome that are dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the church that Papa Franceso visited the day after his election.
We like to watch Italy’s celebrations whenever we can, and although we started walking toward the Spanish Steps a bit late on Sunday, we and 100,000 of our closest friends arrived near Piazza Mignanelli just before the celebration began at 4 p.m. All I could see in front of me were the Colonna dell’Immaculata and the heads of the nearest 100 or so people. We kept pushing forward. The view did not change. We pushed forward some more. The view did not change. The pope arrived, but we only knew that because of the roar from the crowd when they saw him. The pope spoke and prayed, and a choir sang, but my view did not change. The pope left, and so did all of the people jamming the piazza and hanging out of the windows overlooking the column. And so did we. The streets around the Spanish Steps sported their holiday lights and finery, and happy people celebrated the Immaculate Conception and the first day of the Christmas season in Rome.
What a ball!