Visiting Rome? Plan on the Pope

VATICAN CITY — Ah, Christmas in Rome! The Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square, choral concerts at St. Ignatius Church and special events with the Pope.

Pilgrims can still count on all three, say Vatican officials. Despite his age, Pope John Paul II doesn't plan to take it easy this Christmas.

The Holy Father plans to preside at the Christmas liturgical celebrations, as well as the other key liturgies, the Holy See reported.

The “Calendar of Liturgical Celebrations of the Holy Father,” published this month by the Vatican press office, includes the long Christmas vigil Mass on Dec. 24.

The Vatican announcement confirms that the Pope will follow the agenda of previous years. Here are some highlights of the Pope's schedule for the next few months:

Pope Honors Popes

On Sept. 28, John Paul II planned to preside over a 6 p.m. Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the eternal rest of his predecessors Paul VI and John Paul I.

John Paul II has called Paul VI an “unforgettable pastor” and said the Church should always “treasure his example and his teachings.” He has also singled out for praise Pope Paul's first encyclical, 1964's Eccle-siam Suam (His Church), on the mission of the Church in the modern world. “In that memorable document, Paul VI traced the lines of his plans for his pontificate,” John Paul II said.

John Paul II did the same with his own first encyclical, 1978's Redemptoris Hominis (Redeemer of Man).

He has called Pope John Paul I's brief pontificate “an abundant outpouring of love.”

Year of the Eucharist

On Oct. 17 at 5:30 p.m., the Pope will open the Year of the Eucharist during a Mass in St. Peter's. It will be accompanied by Eucharistic adoration and Benediction. The ceremony will take place on the occasion of the closing of the International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Holy Father has named October 2004 to October 2005 the Year of the Eucharist. In his 2001 apostolic letter “At the Beginning of the New Millennium,” he asked the Church to develop powerful new ways to promote Sunday Mass, confession, prayer and community service. He has written an encyclical on the Eucharist and an apostolic letter on confession, and declared a Year of the Rosary.

College Kick-Off

On Oct. 22, the Pope will preside at a Mass in St. Peter's for the opening of the academic year of Rome's ecclesiastical universities. These include the seminary schools of various countries such as the North American College and the Irish College, new schools like the Legionaries’ Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University and ancient schools like the Gregorian and the Angelicum. These schools are largely for seminarians, but it is not uncommon to see lay people attending them. The Mass is a traditional part of the Pope's schedule.

Immaculate Conception

On Dec. 8, John Paul plans to go, as he does every year, to Piazza di Spagna in Rome to render homage to Mary. This is the 150th anniversary of the dogmatic definition of her Immaculate Conception.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”

College Mass

On Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m., the Holy Father will celebrate a Mass in St. Peter's for university students of the city of Rome.

It is an opportunity for John Paul to express two of his great loves: youth and learning. In the past, it has also been an occasion for the Pope to call on Catholic schools to strengthen their religious identity and resist the temptation to water down their studies to meet secular standards.

Christmas and New Year

Mass on Dec. 24 will begin at midnight in St. Peter's Basilica, and the Pope will preside. At midday on Christmas Day, John Paul will deliver his message and impart the blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city of Rome and the world) from St. Peter's Square. On New Year's Eve at 6 p.m., the Pope will preside at vespers and at the praying of the “Te Deum” in thanksgiving for the year ending.

(Register staff)