ROME – After two weeks of battling a case of bronchitis that left him breathless and unable to read his prepared speeches, Pope Francis on Friday led several public events, including an outing to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to mark the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception.

At noon, Francis held a special Angelus address for the Marian feast, which he delivered from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square for the first time since falling ill over two weeks ago.

Traditionally given on Sunday, the address for the past two weeks was done via livestream, with an aide from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State reading the pope’s prepared remarks for him.

In late November the Vatican announced that Pope Francis was receiving treatment for a “mild flu,” which the pontiff later described as an infectious bronchitis, and a resulting inflammation of the lungs. He was forced to cancel a Dec. 1-3 trip to Dubai due to his illness.

To avoid unnecessary strain, the pope has avoided making outdoor public appearances and as of Wednesday, an aide was still reading his reflection for his public general audience address.

Friday marked the pope’s first outdoor appearance since he became ill.

After his noontime Angelus, which focused on the faithfulness of Mary in simple daily activities, Pope Francis in the evening traveled by car to Rome’s Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where he prayed before the beloved Roman icon, Maria Salus Populi Romani.

He then made his way to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, where he led a public prayer and laid a wreath at the base of the square’s famed column and statue honoring the Immaculate Conception.

In his prayer, Francis called for peace and prayed for all categories of people, including workers, those in prison and in rest homes, the homeless and for families.

Mary’s life, he said, is proof that “evil does not have the final word; that our destiny is not death but life, not hatred but fraternity, not conflict but harmony, not war but peace.”

“Mother, turn your eyes of mercy toward all people oppressed by injustice and by poverty, tried by war,” he said, and, pointing to current conflicts, asked Mary to “look to the martyred people of Ukraine, to the people of Palestine and the people of Israel, caught in the spiral of violence.”

Pope Francis also prayed for all mothers who have lost their children due to war and terrorism, or who have watched their children leave “on journeys of desperate hope” as migrants, as well as those who watch their children fight addiction and illness.

He also prayed for all women suffering from or who have suffered violence “in this city, in Italy and in every part of the world.”

“Dry, please, their tears and those of their loved ones. And help us to take a path of education and purification, recognizing and counteracting the violence nestled in our hearts and minds, asking God to free us from it,” he said.

Francis prayed that Mary would show all believers the path of conversion, insisting that “there is no peace without forgiveness and there is no forgiveness without repentance.”

“The world changes if hearts change; and everyone must say: beginning with my own,” he said, but cautioned that only God is capable of changing the human heart with his grace.

Jesus Christ is the salvation of every person and of the whole world, the pope said, praying, “come, Lord Jesus! May your kingdom of love, justice and peace come!”

During his Angelus address earlier on Friday, Pope Francis asked faithful, especially citizens of Rome, to join him in his acts of homage to the Virgin Mary and in praying for peace, particularly “peace in Ukraine, Peace in Palestine and Israel, and in all lands wounded by wars.”

“We ask for peace, for hearts to be at peace, and that there be peace” in the world, he said.

Francis also announced that May 25 and 26 of 2024 would mark the first-ever World Children’s Day in Rome, an initiative sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education.

“What kind of world do we want to pass onto children who are growing up? Like Jesus, we want to put children at the center and take care of them,” he said.

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