ROME -- The church should fear the sin of its own members more than hatred against Christians, Pope Benedict XVI said.
While the church has suffered from persecution throughout its history, it "is supported by the light and strength of God" and will always end up victorious, he said.
Overcoming trials and outside threats shows how the Christian community "is the presence, the guarantee of God's love against all ideologies of hatred and selfishness," he said on the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8.
"The only danger the church can and should fear is the sin of her members," the pope said.
Pope Benedict marked the feast day by making an afternoon visit to a statue of Mary erected near the Spanish Steps.
He went from the Vatican to the heart of Rome's tourist and shopping district to pay homage to Mary by praying before the statue, which commemorates Pope Pius IX's proclamation in 1854 that Mary, by special divine favor, was without sin from the moment she was conceived.