The saying "Does the pope wear a funny hat?" is often used as a wordy but humorous way to express an affirmative response. However, spending Holy Week in Rome is one of the best ways to seek out an honest answer to this question. Now that Holy Week has begun and with the Easter Triduum fast approaching, it's a good idea to explore what makes a road trip to Rome during Holy Week so extraordinary and unique.
This year marks only the third time that Pope Francis, who is of Italian ancestry and originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, has lead the Holy Week masses and processions since he began his papacy in early 2013. This year, nearly 70,000 people gathered to attend the mass that ushered in the start of settimana santa; many clasped olive branches while the pope held a modest palm frond during the march at the beginning of the service.
Finding Your Way Around Holy Week 2015
Due to the fact that Catholics usually attend mass in the evening, the morning service given by the pope on Maundy Thursday in Saint Peter's Basilica will be a good way to see His Holiness without the usual crowds that accompany the services held in the evenings. It's also the perfect opportunity to quietly contemplate the breathtaking architectural masterpiece considered one of the holiest Catholic shrines. The night of Good Friday, the pope will lead the Stations of the Cross near the Colosseum, which, nearly 2,000 years after its construction, remains the largest and most renowned amphitheater in the world. The pope traditionally reads a meditation in various languages as he pauses at each station; having a meditation read by such a powerful figure in your own language can turn this procession into a very poignant experience even for those who aren't religious. On Easter Sunday, the solemnity of Holy Week dissipates, a celebratory mood returns, and the pope will give his traditional speech from his balcony overlooking the Vatican. Because Monday is also a national holiday, some shops and restaurants will remain closed, which makes it a great time to "do as the Romans do" and organize a picnic or a relaxed lunch with friends.
Holy Week for Everyone
Holy Week is generally considered the most significant and sacred time of the year for Catholics and other Christians alike. However, you don't have to be a member of any particular faith to take in the incredible sight of thousands of people that come together from every corner of the globe to attend mass, see the historic sites around Rome and Vatican City, and--weather and the pope's health permitting--catch a glimpse of the supreme pontiff. In Pope Francis' case, the answer to the question "Does the pope wear a funny hat?" may not always be a decisive yes; the Holy Father has become known for his humility and for favoring simpler vestments with little or no ornamentation. The only way to truly answer the question is to travel to Rome during Holy Week and find out for yourself.