"Help us to build a world where man's life is always loved and defended, every form of violence banished, the peace of all tenaciously sought," the Pope implored during the homage he offered today before the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome's Piazza di Spagna.
Among the thousands of pilgrims at the piazza were groups of young people, and men and women religious, who mingled with numbers of workers from nearby stores. The Pope arrived at 4:20 p.m. in the piazza, where he received Walter Veltroni, mayor of Rome, as well as the vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
During the meditation on the Blessed Virgin that he composed for the occasion, the Pope said: "Once again we are here to honor you, at the foot of this column, from which, with love, you watch over Rome and the whole world."
The Pope's visit to the square is part of the city's annual popular tradition. This occasion was especially marked by the 150th anniversary of the day when Pope Pius IX proclaimed "as truth of the Catholic faith" the Virgin Mary's "preservation from all stain of sin," John Paul II said.
After the meditation, John Paul II offered a floral homage to the Virgin, while Cardinal Ruini incensed the image. The flowers had been gathered that same morning in the Vatican Gardens: 150 roses placed in a basket and tied with a ribbon with the Vatican coat of arms.
Two readers proclaimed, respectively, excerpts from the Letter to the Ephesians and from Pius IX's dogmatic bull "Ineffabilis Deus."
Earlier, the Pope presided at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to solemnly observe the anniversary.
The homily ended with an emotional imploration of the Holy Father to the Virgin: "May you accompany every Christian on the path of conversion and holiness, in the struggle against sin and in the search for true beauty, which is always the sign and reflection of divine Beauty."
John Paul II also prayed, with a clear and firm voice, to the Virgin Mary for "peace and salvation for all peoples."
After the Mass, the Pope prayed the Angelus with several thousand pilgrims who weathered the rain in St. Peter's Square.
"The privilege of being preserved from original sin means" that Mary "is the first redeemed by her Son. Her sublime beauty, reflection of that of Christ, is a pledge for all believers of the victory of divine Grace over sin and death," John Paul II told his listeners.
That is why "the Immaculate Conception appears as a beacon of light for humanity of all times" who "leads us to believe and hope in God, in his salvation and in eternal life," and "illuminates, particularly, the path of the Church engaged in the New Evangelization," the Holy Father stressed.