Rome sweet home – A pilgrim’s guide.


Rome sweet home – A pilgrim’s guide.

There is no place like Rome; for me it’s Rome sweet home  not merely because of my Catholic faith but even more because every inch of this city has played a great part in both secular and religious history. Sadly most tourists who tell you they have visited the city have seen very little of it especially those who come in on an eighteen days, six country whirlwind trip (eighteen days includes your flights to and fro and in all probability, five days sitting in a bus)

So what’s left for the Catholic pilgrim to see especially if you are party to such ‘profit oriented’ pilgrim trips? Most of these groups end up arriving in Rome on a Tuesday night and are settled well outside the walls of Rome. Tour operators don’t want to cut their profits and so while they tell you that you are visiting Rome or Paris you must factor this truth, that you will not be in a hotel room looking down the Champs-Élysées or the Via della Conciliazione gazing at the Vatican but be settled in some distant suburb of the city. (End of day one in Rome)

The morning after your arrival (Wednesday) sees you ushered into a bus for the Papal Audience. By the time you reach the Vatican one third of your ‘day two’ is already over. The rest of the better part of the papal audience will see you seated at some considerable distance from the Holy Father and after the papal blessing you will be ushered by your tour leader through a rapid half hour tour, pushing your way through a sea of humanity (most of whom come to the audience) to be given some mundane information about a magnificent structure whose construction began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626. I once overheard a tour guide in the Vatican refer to the body of St John the XXIII as “another dead Pope.”

By day three you would have seen the Vatican museum (and missed out its gems ) and the Sistine Chapel                  (with a poor explanation of the same in the Belvedere court) and half a dozen tourist spots that are sold as ‘must see’ by your tour operator. By the end of day if not mid-day, most Indian tour operators will see you packing to the airport, if Rome was your last stop (which usually it is) or onward to  the city of Florence                    ( rarely because it’s expensive) or to Assisi or Venice.

So am I here to castigate the Tour operators? I would say yes and no for it is also a matter of perception that is fed and willingly swallowed by pilgrims who put in a substantial amount of their savings in a ‘once in a life time trip’. The problem begins when pilgrims are dazzled with the words on the brochure, “European trip covering five or six nation”. Pilgrims think that if they ‘see more countries’ and places then they are done and dusted in one go and while you do get to see your favourite Marian shrines you are also obliged to see many other place that you are least interested.  Tour operators continue to feed on this desire, offering most of the while brochures that have a slew of places, most of which do not include an entry fee and are often seen seated in a bus ( especially big cities)

In these series of articles on Rome and Italy, I want to offer the pilgrims, especially those from India traveling to Rome, options they can place before the tour operator to tailor their pilgrimage to the pilgrims need. I dare say that most operators will turn these down because they are not profitable for business or alternatively they will present the pilgrim with an astronomical cost (but try your luck and smile knowing I said so). While I acknowledge that Rome is no cheap city to visit, I find a great deal of dishonestly in what the pilgrim is offered especially when it comes to the Rome section of the pilgrimage.

My articles come from four personal trips that I have made to Rome, trips that I have planned by myself. It will offer you not only the must see of Rome and the Vatican but also valuable information that you need to have as a pilgrim. It is my hope, that at some stage the pilgrims to Rome will be more discerning in asking questions, than be left with some half-baked information of what they were made to see, much less of what they should have seen but were never told.

 I know there are honest tour operators out there and these need to be willing to take a hit and offer better pilgrimages. To the pilgrims I say this, be realistic and read both, the fine print and the bold print that is offered to you.  Don’t be dazzled by the fact that you’re going to Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Paris and Rome (besides the cities in these countries that are ‘offered to you,’ for in reality you are merely being ferried across a nation with a mid-day stop, which by the way has ‘a site of some religious importance’ and not one that you were enthusiastic to see.

Fr Warner D’Souza

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5 thoughts on “Rome sweet home – A pilgrim’s guide.”

  • Thank you for your sharing, well expressed from your experience which many will resonate with. Do share a possible visit plan, I would love to join you on a, trip that you could organise.

  • Warner, another one of your endeavours which will surely help, guide, enlighten and open our eyes to how we should plan a trip to Rome. You have added another feather in your all ready, over-filled cap.
    Thank you for the information. It will help in having a meaningful and awesome trip to Rome ! Looking forward to the next article. God bless you.

  • Father Warner, we are in Rome for 5 days in June. Sat-Thursday. How do we go about attending mass on the Sunday at the Vatican? And is there a chance to see the pope in audience or does he say mass on Sunday?
    We are staying close to the coliseum. Any travellers advice would be greatly appreciated as we travel with the kids too.

    • Hi Adrian
      In the article I have listed the mass timings in St Peter’s. There is a sung mass which even though is not in English is fantastic. This mass is at the chair of St Peter which is behind the main altar or what is known as Bernins Baldacino. It is summer time and the lines to get in are long, so factor that in. If you attend the first Mass then you could go a bit early and you have St Peters relatively empty. Once in St Peter’s, you need to indicate to the usher that you wish to attend Mass or else he might think your a tourist. Once you do they let you into the cordoned area for mass .On Sundays the Holy Father leads the angelus at noon and you can simply gather in St Peter’s square. You can carry religious articles to be blessed by him. Keep them in your hand during the angelus.
      The Wednesday audience is free and you can write to the Vatican for a pass. They send you a letter asking you to collect the same a day before the audience. These are usually exchanged for the letter and proof of identity the day before the audience ( see timings) either at the bronze door or sometimes at the Paul VI Hall. They also issue passes a day before( look at the Vatican website ) if you do get a pass the trick is to get in as early as five thirty and stand in line( this is a challenge if you have children) . Those who do get to the line early make for the railings where the Pope will pass by. Once you get to the railing reserve a chair and stay put at the railing . It’s best to sit one behind the other rather than side by side.
      If you do not get your passes don’t panic, there is a trick to still see the Pope up and close . Write in and I’ll tell you . [email protected]


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