Hundreds of clergy, religious, and laity processed through the Vatican gardens in a candlelight vigil on Saturday evening to mark the close of a month traditionally dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Led by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the pilgrims prayed the rosary and sang Marian hymns as evening fell over the Vatican. Families with infants and small children processed alongside religious sisters and priests as meditations on the life of Christ were read.

Cardinal Comastri began the procession by reading a passage from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium. Mary is “the mother of the evangelizing Church and without her we cannot fully understand the spirit of the new evangelization,” he reminded the faithful gathered behind the St. Peter’s Basilica on May 31.

As the crowds walked slowly up the hill behind the Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians, the echoes of the “Ave Maria” being sung between decades of the rosary rang out. Candles were raised high at each refrain of the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary at the annunciation.

Pope Francis joined the crowds gathered for prayer in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, where he offered a short reflection on the gospel passage that had been proclaimed - the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.

The Holy Father meditated on Mary’s ready willingness to serve others.

“The gospel says that after the annunciation of the angel, she went ‘in haste,’” he recalled.

“She didn’t lose time. Immediately, she went to serve. She is the ‘Virgin of readiness,’ the ‘Madonna of readiness,’ immediate and ready to give us help when we pray, when we ask her help, her protection, her favor.”

The Pope noted that Mary’s prompt action in the gospel should inspire Christians to ask for her aid.

“In many moments of life in which we need her help, her protection, remember that she doesn’t wait - she is the ‘Madonna of readiness’ - immediately going to serve.”

The prayer vigil in the grotto also included the chanting of Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, and prayers of intercession for the Pope and the whole Church.

A prayer of Pope Francis for Mary’s intercession concluded the evening.

“Star of the new evangelization, help us to shine with the testimony of communion, of service, of ardent and generous faith, in justice and in love for the poor, so that the joy of the gospel may reach to the ends of the earth and no periphery may be deprived of its light.”