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Pope Francis Declares 2016 a Jubilee Year

Pope Francis among the crowds in front of St. Peter's Basilica

Pope Francis among the crowds in front of St. Peter’s Basilica

Pope Francis recently announced that 2016 will be what’s known as a Holy Year, commonly called a “Jubilee Year.” The pope has declared it the Holy Year of Mercy, focusing on his favorite theme of compassion.

Jubilee Years have been called by the church every 25-50 years, starting in the year 1300. Historically, these were to be special periods of complete forgiveness of sins – in the Bible, it’s when slaves were to be set free and debts absolved. Today, a Jubilee Year is a time for the faithful to seek “Jubilee Indulgences” (which include visiting all four papal basilicas in Rome, entering through the “holy door”) and, more generally, an opportunity for the church to promote a particular theme (such as Pope Francis’ selected theme of “mercy”).

The Holy Year of Mercy will begin on December 8, 2015 with a ceremonial opening of the holy doors on Rome’s four papal basilicas – St. Peter’s in Vatican City, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul’s Outside the Wall – which are only opened during Jubilee Years. Walking through all four of the holy doors is said to absolve a believer of all sins. The closing of the holy doors marks the end of the Jubilee Year – in this case, the end of the Holy Year of Mercy will be November 20, 2016.

If you’re visiting Rome and Vatican City during the Jubilee Year, you’ll see bigger crowds than normal – both pilgrims and tourists – and things like getting tickets to a papal audience or touring the Vatican will require more advance planning than usual. You’d be smart to book your accommodation as soon as possible, too.

- Jessica Spiegel

Pope Francis Declares 2016 a Jubilee Year from Viator Rome

How to see the Pope in Rome

Pope Benedict - Papal Audience in Rome

Located within the city of Rome is a separate city state, the Vatican. The head of this state is the Pope. Many people make the pilgrimage to the Vatican every year – as they have done for centuries – to see the Pope. Here are the best ways to do this:

The Pope holds a General Audience with the public on Wednesdays at 10.30am. This is held in St Peter’s Square except in winter when it is in Paul VI Hall, just to the left of St Peter’s Square. They are free but you must have a ticket which you’ll need to organize in advance. In the days leading up to a Wednesday audience you can obtain tickets from the Swiss Guard by going to the Bronze Doors of the Apostolic Palace. For large groups or to book further in advance contact: Santa Susanna Church, the American Catholic Church in Rome.

Sunday at noon is when the Pope prays the Angelus standing at the second window from the right in the Apostolic Palace. He also gives the crowd a blessing. You do not need tickets for this and it is free to attend but it does get crowded. During summer (July and August), the Pope is often not at the Vatican so check beforehand whether he is in residence to give the blessing or not.

If the Pope is at his summer residence in Castelgandolfo he will say the prayer there. Again tickets are not required but space is much more limited than at the Vatican. Castelgandolfo is 16 miles from Rome.

The Pope says special masses during Christmas and Easter each year at various locations around Rome.

During Holy Week there is a Papal Mass held on Palm Sunday in St Peter’s Square. On Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday the Pope says mass in the Vatican Basilica. He also follows the Way of the Cross to the Coliseum on Palm Sunday.

Each month there is at least one Papal Mass in the Vatican Basilica. The program for 2012 can be found here.

-Philippa B.

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