Covid-19: Pope cancels pilgrimage to Rome's Spanish Steps

Pontiff will not make annual pilgrimage on 8 December this year, breaking a tradition dating back to 1953.

Pope Francis has cancelled his annual pilgrimage into the centre of Rome for the feast of the Immaculate Conception this year, due to the covid-19 crisis, reports Vatican News.

The pope has decided not to pay homage to the statue of the Madonna in Piazza Mignanelli, near the Spanish Steps, "to avoid all risk of contagion caused by gatherings,” said Holy See press officer Matteo Bruni.

The papal pilgrimage, which always draws a large crowd, and is one of the main events in the capital on 8 December, a public holiday in Italy.

In a tradition dating back to 1953, the pope kneels in prayer before leaving a floral wreath which firemen then place on top of the statue, in a ceremony usually attended by Rome's mayor.

This year instead, Pope Francis will be "entrusting the city of Rome and its inhabitants, as well as the many sick people throughout the world, to the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin Mary," reports Vatican News, with the Holy See press office clarifying that the "act of devotion will be undertaken privately."

As well as being a Catholic holy day it is a national holiday, however many clothes shops will be open as the day is generally viewed as the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

In Rome the feast day often coincides with the mayor switching on the lights of the city's Christmas tree, popularly known as Spelacchio, which arrived in the central Piazza Venezia this morning.

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Address Piazza Mignanelli, 00187 Roma RM, Italy

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Covid-19: Pope cancels pilgrimage to Rome's Spanish Steps

Piazza Mignanelli, 00187 Roma RM, Italy