If you’re planning on visiting Rome during this Year of Faith, your first port of call should be the website of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP), the pilgrimage office of the Vicariate of Rome.
The office, which is also part of the Holy See, is providing four special initiatives to visiting pilgrims, each aimed at enriching people’s faith and enabling them to grow closer to God.
The first program involves "faith routes in Rome" in which seven itineraries have been especially devised, each ending up at the tomb of Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica. The pedestrian pilgrimages are to various churches and basilicas in the center of Rome: St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, Piazza Venezia, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Basilica of Our Lady of Trastevere and St. Peter’s.
"Every church and basilica will be marked in an appropriate way," a spokesman for the pilgrimage office explained, adding that the use of English and other languages "allow the faithful to discover and fully live specific moments of prayer and reflection."
Whatever itinerary a pilgrim chooses, it is good to know that each is based on the four dimensions indicated by Pope Benedict XVI in Porta Fidei, the apostolic letter that launched the Year of Faith in October 2012. These entail prayer and reflection on the theme of faith as preparation for the way of life; celebration of the sacrament of penance and the sacrament of the Eucharist; encounter with the saints, witnesses of faith and spirituality; and the solemn profession of faith in St. Peter’s Basilica and hearing the word by the Pope.
In short, the moments of meditation and celebration in the various Roman churches and basilicas will conform with the Creed and follow the tradition of the first Christian communities of emphasizing a prayerful, celebrated, lived and professed faith.
ORP is also giving each participant in the walking itineraries a special "Pilgrim Kit" that includes a rucksack, mementos, a "pilgrim credential" to show one has been on the itinerary (similar to the one pilgrims have stamped on the Santiago de Compostela) and a small candle that can be left in the churches visited during the journey.
"There will be dedicated spaces to leave the candle that will mark the passage from darkness to the light of grace and forgiveness received," according to the pilgrimage office.
A third initiative involves a "faith scroll" in which people can share their thoughts on what the faith means to them on a large scroll kept in ORP’s office next to St. Peter’s Square. These reflections can also be viewed online. Pilgrims can also leave prayer intentions, which will be remembered at a Mass in St. Peter’s on the first Tuesday of every month.
ORP says that, even though the faith scroll has only been going since November, it has already provoked several hundred "beautiful thoughts."
Finally, the pilgrimage office is offering its usual services: pilgrimages to other sites and shrines in Italy and the Holy Land, as well as bus tours in the Vatican Gardens and tours to all the major attractions of Rome.
ORP says every activity can be arranged online before arrival, but, even once there, pilgrims can still book tours and receive assistance at any of ORP’s offices at St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s Square and its headquarters at 13A Via Della Pigna.
"In that respect, it’s very easy to be a pilgrim to Rome during this Year of Faith," said an ORP official.
Father Caesar Atuire, OPR’s CEO, said all these initiatives are tied to the New Evangelization "because they are for pilgrims of all ages and types, not just for those who frequent the Church."
A pilgrimage, he said, "is an instrument that allows people to live a ‘real’ experience, to grow closer to God."
"Rome is the cradle of Christianity, the Seat of Peter," Father Atuire added. "His Holiness [Pope Benedict XVI], who called for this Year of Faith, has encouraged pilgrims to make the journey during this year to profess faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and, therefore, it’s important to visit Rome."
To add to ORP’s initiatives, the Church in Rome will also be hosting a number of major events during this special year. These include a vigil of Pentecost, attended by the new Holy Father, with all the ecclesial movements in St. Peter’s Square on May 18. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected to take part in conferences and other events in Rome around that time.
On June 16, the new Pope will also be hosting a world meeting of pro-life advocates at the Vatican, dedicated to the gospel of life. And, for the first time, the new Holy Father will lead an hour of Eucharistic adoration on the feast of Corpus Christi on June 2.
Among the cultural events planned is a concert in St. Peter’s Square on June 22; and, on July 7, the new Pope will meet with seminarians and religious-order novices, who will make a pilgrimage to Rome to demonstrate "the joy of their decision to follow the Lord in serving his Church."
On Sept. 18-19, a workshop organized by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Universities will examine the value of the Catholic Church’s Catechism in the teaching of theology, while Sept. 29 will be a Day for Catechists, which will be celebrated in the presence of the new Pope.
Finally, on Oct. 13, the new Holy Father will celebrate a Marian Day together with a host of Marian groups.
But even if pilgrims cannot make these events, just a visit to the Eternal City will be beneficial to their faith.
"If pilgrims make the journey to Rome during some of the most important events and celebrations, that’s wonderful," said Father Atuire. "But even if there are no major events planned during a certain week, the Year of Faith in itself is a special occasion, and any visit during this year is unique."
One main objective of this year is clear: "to make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm," Pope Benedict wrote in Porta Fidei, "since only in him is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love."
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.