December 8th is a huge day in Rome and throughout Italy. It is the Catholic celebration of the Immaculate Conception and for most it is a holiday from work. Italians from all over the country travel to Rome just to be near the column of the Immaculate Conception, a mere 100 meters from the Spanish Steps, and hopefully to see the Pope. Tradition holds that the Pope comes here every December 8th to say a few prayers to the Mother of God and to lay a wreath of flowers at the base of the column. Irregardless of your personal religious persuasion, this is a spectacle to see and experience. While the crowds are very large, they are mostly respectful and well behaved. We were fortunate enough to have had great weather all day, as well as to have met several very interesting people (i.e. Folks from Sicily, Milan,...and North Carolina).
Following the formal ceremony, Pope Francesco greeted special members of the crowd (those in wheelchairs). In addition, his aides carried young 3-6 year old children to him for his blessing. The mothers of these children were moved to tears because their children were singled out for this honor. This was a very emotionally charged scene. We had an excellent position to view this part of the day.
Carl and Lorraine Aveni are two retirees planning on traveling through Europe for at least one year.