ROME, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Thousands gathered in Rome to hear Pope Benedict XVI speak on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the holiest days of the year for Catholics.
The pope made the annual pilgrimage Thursday to the statue of Jesus' mother Mary, at the Piazza di Spagna, to celebrate the church tenet that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, and that he -- unlike all other people -- was conceived without original sin, ANSA reported.
"At this difficult time for Italy, Europe and various parts of the world, Mary helps us see that there is a light beyond the cloak of fog that appears to be all around us," Benedict said in his homily.
The tradition of the annual pilgrimage goes back to 1854, when Pope Pius IX had the statue erected on a column in the square. The tradition faded but was revived 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II, who was a devout follower of Mary.