Celebrating Holy Week 2019 at the Vatican

Women victims of modern slavery and those in prison will be at the center of Pope Francis’ attention during Holy Week.

Pope Francis celebrates the Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Holy Saturday, April 15, 2017.
Pope Francis celebrates the Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Holy Saturday, April 15, 2017. (photo: Vatican Media/National Catholic Register)

VATICAN CITY — The scourge of human trafficking and the great suffering of its victims will be at the heart of Holy Week 2019, as Sister Eugenia Bonetti, the president of Slaves No More, was entrusted by Pope Francis to write the reflections for the traditional Way of the Cross on Good Friday.

Starting April 14, the Holy Week liturgical cycle in the Vatican should proceed similarly to previous years.

On Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord, Pope Francis will preside over Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Square the morning of April 14, after having blessed palm and olive branches, to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

As is customary, Palm Sunday will coincide with the 34th World Youth Day, which is celebrated at the diocesan level (contrary to the international World Youth Day, which this year was held in January in Panama City) on the theme “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: May It Be Done to Me According to Your Word” (Luke 1:38). The event is meant to inspire young people to live Holy Week in a deeper way through times of prayer, catechesis and personal reflection.


Holy Thursday at Velletri Correctional Facility

The Pope will travel Holy Thursday to Velletri correctional facility, near Rome, to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and wash the feet of 12 prisoners. The visit will include a meeting with some of the 557 detainees, prison staff, police and local leaders, as well as an exchange of gifts with the head of the facility.

The Holy Father has made it a tradition to celebrate Holy Thursday with “people on the peripheries,” whether it is a prison, a refugee camp or a rehabilitation facility. It is the fifth time that he will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a prison. He went to Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison for minors on his first year as a pope, in 2013, and then to Rebibbia prison in 2015. He chose the prison of Paliano, south of Rome, in 2017, and Regina Cœli, near the Vatican, in 2018.

Earlier in the day, the Holy Father will open the Easter Triduum by presiding at the concelebration of the holy chrism Mass, together with patriarchs, cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests. During the celebration, the Pope will bless the holy oils, or “chrisms,” that will be used for the sacraments during the year. 

On April 19, celebrating the Passion of the Lord, Pope Francis will preside over the Liturgy of the Word, the adoration of the cross and the Communion Rite in St. Peter’s Basilica, starting at 5pm. At 9:15pm, he will participate in the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), at the Colosseum, at the end of which he will give a reflection and impart his apostolic blessing.


Way of the Cross Meditations

This year, Italian anti-human trafficking leader Sister Eugenia, a Consolata missionary, was entrusted with writing the reflections for the traditional Way of the Cross that Pope Francis will lead at the Colosseum on Good Friday, usually attended by tens of thousands of people and followed on TV by millions around the world.

After spending 24 years in Kenya as a missionary, from 1967 to 1991, Sister Eugenia has been continuing her fight against human trafficking in Italy, focusing on helping women and girls to leave prostitution. In 2012, she founded Slaves No More, an association that helps women start a new life in their countries of origin.

Her long-standing commitment with women has been recognized several times. In 2007, she received the U.S. secretary of state’s International Women of Courage Award. She was also among the winners of the European Citizen’s Prize in 2013, and she received the Order of Merit, Italy’s highest honor, in 2014.

“To celebrate Via Crucis doesn’t mean to remember a fact that happened 2,000 years ago, but to listen to the suffocated voice of new crucifixes of history, in which Jesus’ Calvary is being extended,” she told Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference. Confessing she initially felt embarrassed by such responsibility, she explained how she finally found inspiration: “I put the past 26 years of my existence in the reflections; they were the toughest and at the same time the richest years of my life. I put all the women I met in the Calvaries of our paths, their pain as well as their daily resistance to keep a shred of humanity,” she said.

Sister Eugenia is the sixth woman to write the Way of the Cross meditations at the Colosseum. The first was Mother Anna Maria Canopi, a Benedictine abbess, in 1993. Two years ago, in 2017, the Holy Father chose French biblical scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier, laureate of the 2014 Ratzinger Prize.

Pope Francis has always been particularly sensitive to the plague of human trafficking. In 2014, he brought together several world religious leaders at the Vatican to sign a joint declaration against “modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labor and prostitution, organ trafficking” as a crime against humanity.

In 2015, on Sister Eugenia’s recommendation, the Pope instituted the World Day of Prayer and Reflection Against Human Trafficking Feb. 8, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave who became a nun in the last century and who is considered a patron for trafficking victims.

At the approach of Holy Week, a four-day international conference entitled “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking,” organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, was held in Rome. The April 8-11 conference culminated in a private audience between the various participants and Pope Francis in the Vatican Synod Hall.


Easter Celebrations

The Easter vigil will take place April 20, beginning at 8:30pm. After blessing the new fire in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, and after the processional entrance with the Easter candle and the singing of the Exsultet, the Pope will preside over the Liturgy of the Word, the Baptismal Liturgy and the Celebration of the Eucharist.

Francis will celebrate Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday at 10am. At the end of the celebration, from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, he will impart the traditional papal blessing urbi et orbi (“to the city of Rome and to the whole world”).

All of the ceremonies will be available for livestreaming on the Vatican YouTube channel as well as via EWTN. The Via Crucis on Good Friday, Easter Sunday Mass and the urbi et orbi blessing and message from St. Peter’s Square will also be livestreamed, with audio commentaries in English and Spanish: See “TV Picks” for times.

Europe correspondent Solène Tadié writes from Rome.