12/08/2014 12:30 EST | Updated 02/07/2015 05:59 EST

Pope warns against 'slavery' to material things in visit to Rome's swank shopping streets

ROME - Pope Francis is praying that humanity be free of any "slavery" to material things as he visited Rome's swank shopping area near the Spanish Steps.

Shoppers crowded into the square Monday to see Francis keep an annual appointment that marks the Dec. 8 Catholic feast day honouring the Virgin Mary and the traditional start of the city's holiday shopping season.

Wearing a long white coat in the chilly early evening, Francis prayed that "humanity be freed of all spiritual and material slavery." He stood before a flower-adorned statue of Mary atop a towering column and expressed hope that in the run-up to Christmas, people would "go counter-current" by concentrating less on themselves.

Francis wants the church to pay more attention to the poor and others on the margins of society.