The Pope weeps in Rome as he prays for peace in Ukraine

ROME — Pope Francis broke down in tears in central Rome on Thursday as he prayed for peace in Ukraine during his annual Christmas visit to venerate a statue of the Virgin Mary near the Spanish Steps.

Francis bent down and choked, unable to speak clearly when he got to the part of the prayer where he said: “I would have liked to bring the thanks of the Ukrainian people…”

As soon as the crowd of thousands of dignitaries, priests and ordinary Romans realized that the Pope was overcome with emotion, they burst into applause and encouraged him to continue.

After a long pause, Francis continued the prayer, continuing where he left off: “…for the peace of the Ukrainian people, which we have been asking the Lord for so long. Instead, I must present to you the pleas of the children, the elderly, mothers and fathers, and the youth of that martyred country.

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The moment came during the Pope’s annual visit to the Spanish Steps, which falls on the December 8 feast day dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The event marks the unofficial start of the Christmas season in Italy.