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Pope Francis leads the Immaculate Conception celebration prayer in Piazza di Spagna (Spain's Square) in downtown Rome, Italy, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi


ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis lamented the decay and degradation of Rome on Friday, using a traditional prayer on a national feast day to highlight problems such as environmental blight and corruption in the Italian capital.

Francis made his comments at the base of Rome's famed Spanish Steps, where each year popes pay homage to a statue of the Madonna on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Rome has fallen into disrepair and degradation in recent years, with streets full of pot holes, piles of garbage and neglected public gardens where weeds grow as tall as a person.

Francis, who is also bishop of Rome, prayed that the residents of the city develop "antibodies against some viruses of our times".

Those he listed included "resignation to environmental and ethical degradation," "civic incivility," "contempt for the common good," and fear of immigrants.

In July, two leaders of a crime ring that plundered Rome city coffers were convicted along with some 40 politicians, officials and businessmen, at the end of one of the biggest corruption trials in the Italian capital.

Gang members were accused of infiltrating Rome city hall and using bribery and intimidation to get their hands on lucrative public contracts, including those for the running of centres housing immigrants who have flooded into Italy from Africa.

On Friday, the pope spoke of the need to help "so many people who have emigrated here from places of war and hunger".

The investigation of the crime ring laid bare systemic corruption in the city as politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen hooked up with lowlife criminals to rig public tenders.

The corruption was seen as the one of the causes of the recent disrepair and degradation, which has received widespread cover in the foreign media, blemishing the city's appeal as a tourist destination.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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