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Column of the Immaculate Conception, RomeShutterstock

ROME (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has canceled public veneration of a statue of the Immaculate Conception for the second year in a row. 

The Holy See press office announced on November 27 that in order to avoid the risk of spreading COVID-19 through a crowd, Pope Francis would perform a private devotion to Our Lady instead of participating in the decades-long ceremonial tradition in which the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is adorned with a bouquet of flowers during a public gathering on the Spanish Steps. 

The statement said that Francis will ask the Blessed Virgin in prayer “to protect the Romans, the city in which they live, and the sick who need Her maternal protection everywhere in the world.” 

Since 1953, popes have publicly venerated the statue on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, alongside Rome’s mayor, other officials, and Roman firefighters. Rome’s fire department originally erected the column upon which the statue of the Blessed Mother stands. Pope Pius XII was the first pope to participate in the ceremony, walking two miles from the Vatican to attend. 

During the customary veneration, the head of the Italian fire department presents a bouquet of flowers, which is placed around the right arm of the statue of the Virgin Mary, accessed from the ladder of a fire truck. Another bouquet is placed at the bottom of the statue. 

The Column of the Immaculate Conception consists of a square marble base with statues of biblical figures who foreshadowed the Virgin birth, a Corinthian marble column sculpted in ancient Rome, and a bronze sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commissioned by Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies. It was dedicated on December 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. According to this teaching, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved “free from every stain of original sin” from the moment of her conception.  

The cancelation of the statue’s public veneration was announced days after the Italian government issued new restrictions that will allow only those who have received the COVID-19 shot or recovered from COVID-19 to dine indoors at restaurants, go to the gym, to movies, museums, sporting events, and public ceremonies such as weddings, beginning December 6. 

Last year, Francis made a surprise private visit to the statue of the Immaculate Conception on her feast day, after the public ceremony was canceled due to COVID-19. 

Francis is currently scheduled to participate in several public liturgies this December, including Christmas Eve Mass and the Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter’s Square on Christmas Day.