Pope prays in Rome's posh shopping district

By the Associated Press | December 8, 2013 | 1:04 PM EST

Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Spanish Steps to pray at the statue of the Virgin Mary, in central Rome, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013 on the occasion of the Immaculate Conception feast. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis, in the heart of Rome's fanciest shopping district, prayed on Sunday that the poor are never forgotten.

His appearance 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.

Then, in a departure from past popes who would sit in the back seat of a chauffeured Vatican car, Francis sat up front, next to the driver, whom he chatted with as he was driven across town. After a brief stop to pray at Rome's St. Mary Major Basilica, Francis returned to Vatican City.