Benedict XVI says Mary's immaculate conception brings joy in annual pilgrimage to Spanish Steps

In the immaculate conception of Mary, Christians recognise the truth that the Gospel is the good news of freedom from sin, selfishness and death, Pope Benedict XVI has said.

Standing before a statue of Mary near the Spanish Steps, in the midst of Rome’s ritzy shopping district, Pope Benedict said Mary is a reminder that silence is essential for hearing God’s word, that salvation comes from God alone and that joy comes from being freed of sin.

As he does every year, the Pope prayed the Angelus at noon in St Peter’s Square, then – riding in a new Mercedes-Benz M-class popemobile – went to the Spanish Steps late in the afternoon on Saturday, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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That Mary was conceived without sin “speaks to us of joy, that authentic joy that spreads in a heart freed from sin”, the Pope said, sitting before a column topped with a statue of Mary erected in honour of the Immaculate Conception.

“Sin brings with it sadness,” the Pope said.

While some people think Christianity “is an obstacle to joy because they see it as a collection of prohibitions and rules”, it really is good news, he said, because it is “the proclamation of the victory of grace over sin, of life over death”.

Of course, he said, faith leads people to renounce certain habits and actions, and it requires “a discipline of mind, heart and behaviour” because original sin leaves within people “the poisonous root of selfishness, which harms them and others”.

The day’s Gospel reading recounted the Annunciation, the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would be Jesus’s mother, and Pope Benedict said he was struck that such a “decisive moment for human destiny, the moment in which God became man, is wrapped in great silence”.

“It was an event that, if it had happened in our day, wouldn’t leave a trace in the newspapers or magazines, because it is a mystery that takes place in silence,” he said.

“The quiet silence is shown to be more fruitful than the frenetic agitation that characterises our cities,” the Pope said, encouraging Christians “to stop, be still, listen to the silence in which God makes his soft voice heard”.

Pope Benedict said no one can understand God’s plan for his or her life, nor can they see the best way to bring Christian values to society without some silent reflection. It is only “going deeper, where the forces at work are not economic and political, but moral and spiritual”, that God’s voice can be heard.

Mary’s immaculate conception also reminds Christians that “the salvation of the world isn’t the work of man, science, technology or an ideology”, but of God, he said.

Reciting the Angelus earlier in the day, the Pope said Mary’s life, and particularly her saying “yes” to God’s plans for her, illustrate how close a person can come to God once freed of sin.

“In Mary, in fact, the relationship with God that sin breaks is fully alive and active,” he said. “There is no opposition between God and her being; there is full communion and understanding.”

The Pope prayed that through the intercession of Mary, God would “grant us the grace to reject sin and persevere in the grace of baptism”.

Pope Benedict also recited the Angelus with visitors who came to St Peter’s Square for his normal Sunday greeting.

The day’s Gospel reading focused on St John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Lord. “We are called to listen to that voice, to make room for and welcome Jesus into our hearts,” he said.

“In our consumer societies, where people are tempted to look for joy in things,” he said, John the Baptist teaches us to focus more on what is essential, “so that Christmas is experienced not only as an exterior celebration, but as the feast of the Son of God who came to bring peace, life and true joy.”

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