His appearance Sunday at the foot of the Spanish Steps follows a papal tradition of public prayer before a statue representing Mary on Dec. 8, a church holiday honoring the mother of Jesus.
That date also marks the official start of Rome's Christmas shopping season. Francis' route from the Vatican took him down Via Condotti, which is lined with swank designer stores. He prayed aloud that people "never be left indifferent to the cries of the poor."
Francis wore a white, full-length, double-breasted coat in the chill as he greeted disabled faithful, children and others among the thousands in the square who took a break from window shopping and gift buying.