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Pope Francis prays in front of an icon of the "Madonna Lactans" or Nursing Madonna near the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica after an evening prayer service at the Vatican Dec. 31, 2023.

Vatican City

Bring Mary’s gratitude and hope into the new year, Pope Francis says

By JUSTIN McLELLAN, Catholic News Service | Published January 1, 2024

VATICAN CITY (CNS)–On New Year’s Eve, believers and non-believers alike give thanks for all they have received in the last 12 months and express their hopes for the coming year, but Christians are called to cultivate their gratitude and hope following the example of Mary, Pope Francis said.

“Faith enables us to live this hour in a way different than that of a worldly mindset,” the pope said during an evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 31. “Faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnated God, born of the Virgin Mary, gives a new way of feeling time and life.”

Pope Francis said that while many people express thanks and hope on New Year’s Eve, in reality, they often “lack the essential dimension which is that of relationship with the Other and with others, with God and with brothers and sisters.”

With a worldly mentality, gratitude and hope are “flattened onto the self, onto one’s interests,” he said. “They don’t go beyond satisfaction and optimism.”

Pope Francis encouraged Christians to look to the example of Mary who, after giving birth to Jesus, had a mother’s gratitude in her heart for bearing the child of God.

“Mystery makes room for gratitude, which surfaces in the contemplation of gift, in gratuitousness, while it suffocates in the anxiety of having and appearing,” the pope said. “The church learns gratitude from the Virgin Mary.”

The pope also said that the hope of Mary and the church “is not optimism, it is something else: it is faith in a God faithful to his promises.”

“This faith takes the form of hope in the dimension of time,” he said. “Christians, like Mary, are pilgrims of hope.”

Near the basilica’s main altar was an icon of the “Madonna Lactans,” or Nursing Madonna, from the Benedictine Abbey of Montevirgine in Mercogliano, Italy. The icon, in late Byzantine style, shows Mary nursing the infant Jesus. The pope prayed silently before the image before leaving the basilica.

The service culminated with the choir and the 6,500 people present in the basilica singing the “Te Deum” (“We praise you, oh God”) in thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year.

In his homily, Pope Francis noted that the coming year would involve intense preparation for the Holy Year 2025. Yet more than worrying about organizing logistics and events, the pope asked people to be witnesses to “ethical and spiritual quality of coexistence.”

As an example, he pointed out that people of every nationality, culture and religion come together in St. Peter’s Square, so the basilica must be welcoming to all people and provide accessible information.

The pope then praised charm of Rome’s historic center but said it must also be accessible to people with disabilities and the elderly.

Roberto Gualtieri, mayor of Rome, sat in the front of row of the basilica during the prayer service and greeted the pope at its conclusion.

Pope Francis noted that a pilgrimage “requires good preparation,” and recalled that 2024 would be dedicated to prayer before the Holy Year.

“And what better teacher could we have than our holy Mother?” the pope asked. “Let us learn from her to live every day, every moment, every occupation with our inner gaze turned to Jesus.”

After the prayer service, the pope greeted people lined along the basilica’s central nave. Then, riding in his wheelchair, he went outside to pray in front of the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, taking his time to wave to visitors, bless children and listen to the Swiss Guard band as it played Christmas carols.