Pope asks Romans to join him in prayer on holiday dedicated to Mary

Pope Benedict XVI asked Roman Catholic faithful to join him in prayer Friday when he makes a traditional visit to the Spanish Steps on a holiday dedicated to Mary.

Benedict will place flowers at the foot of a statue dedicated to Mary and deliver a speech on the Immaculate Conception holiday, which also marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Rome.

"Let us look at Mary who shines like a sign of sure hope and consolation," Benedict told pilgrims and tourists gathered under his apartment window in St. Peter's Square at midday, reports AP.

"With this awareness I invite you to unite yourselves with me when in the afternoon I will renew the traditional act of homage to this sweet Mother," the pope said.

Christmas preparations have already begun at the Vatican, with work under way to set up the larger than life Nativity scene at the center of St. Peter's Square. Vatican workers will then place a Christmas tree, due to arrive next week from the southern Italian region of Calabria, next to the scene.

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