Tips on visiting The Vatican from "Vatican Insider"

by Joan's Rome

As you can imagine, I receive lots of emails and meet many visitors in Rome who ask me how they get tickets to an audience with the Pope and how they can visit the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc. When possible I try to answer individual emails with this information. And once, on my weekend radio show “Vatican Insider, “ I answered these questions.

Unfortunately I cannot help people plan trips to Rome or offer extended advice on tours to other cities, though someday that might be excellent material for a series of articles for my blog. The biggest factor for me is always time – or rather, the lack of it. I once memorized a page on a desk calendar I had which said: “Never say you need more hours in a day to get everything accomplished. You have the same number of hours in a day as Thomas Jefferson, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison, and Mother Teresa!” How true.! It’s a question of how we use that time, though I feel I make excellent use of every minute.

As this will be my last column for a few weeks (I leave tomorrow for Birmingham and EWTN’s Family Celebration weekend, and then fly to California to handle matters regarding my Mother’s estate), I thought today might be a good time to give you some helpful advice about visiting the Vatican, tickets to papal audiences, etc.

Pope Benedict is not scheduled to have another weekly audience until Wednesday, August 1. Since he will be at Castelgandolfo on that date, I do not know, at this writing, whether audiences will be for smaller groups and held in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace there, or whether he will return to Rome via helicopter for the weekly meetings.

Tickets to all papal audiences and liturgies are totally free of charge. I recommend contacting three places to get your tickets. Once tickets are requested, you may pick them up on Tuesday afternoons – the day before the weekly Wednesday audience. Contact the following for your tickets:

1. A terrific place to go is the Bishops Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican – part of the Pontifical North American College. It is located near Trevi Fountain on Via dell’Umilta, 30. Its web site – where you can request tickets – is a veritable font of information. Go to - then click on the left side where it says “COMING TO ROME?” Pick-up is on Tuesday from 3 to 7 p.m.

2. The Church of Santa Susanna, the church for American and English-speaking Catholics in Rome:, also has a terrific web site – one of the best you could ever use if you are about to visit Rome – and it tells you how to get tickets. Go to They provide tickets – but for Wednesday general audiences only – no liturgies. Once you have requested tickets, you may pick them up the Tuesday before the audience between 5 and 6:30 p.m. at the Church on Via XX Settembre, The Eucharist has been celebrated here since the year 285. The church is built over the home of St. Susanna and her father, St. Gabinus, early Christians who welcomed other Christians to their home for the Eucharist. Santa Susanna’s has been administered by the Paulist Fathers since 1922.

3. The Vatican office for requesting tickets is called the Prefecture of the Papal Household and the Vatican web site provides their phone (06-6988-4857) and fax (06-6988-5863) numbers. The Prefect of the Papal Household is American Archbishop James Harvey.

And now, for the frosting on the cake: Go to the Vatican web site – - and click on the icon next to the word INFORMATION on the home page. Voilà – a veritable treasure trove of information – all that a visitor to the Vatican could ever want, and perhaps even more than you can digest. And I’d ask you to spread the word! That way, if someone asks you the opening hours of major basilicas in Rome or how to get a ticket for the “scavi” (excavations), you can quickly direct them to the Vatican web page and sound very well-informed at the same time!

This page has information about the major papal basilicas (they are no longer called ‘patriarchal’ basilicas) – Mass times, addresses, phone numbers, opening hours, etc. It will tell you all you want to know about visits to the pre-Constantine Vatican necropolis known as the “scavi,” about Peter’s Pence Office, the Vatican Museums (opening hours, itineraries, virtual tours, etc.), the Vatican Library (which closed July 14 for a three-year renovation), the Vatican Secret Archives, the Publishing House and so forth.

This page will tell you how to access the daily press office bulletin (though it is almost always only in Italian), and how to purchase photographs and video-recordings of audiences and liturgies. It even has an A to Z list of all Vatican offices (just click where it says dicasteries and offices).

And last – but by no means least – the Vatican switchboard number. Since it is there for all to see, I’ll tell you: the prefix for Italy and the Vatican is 39 – then dial 06-6982.

You are now well-armed, information-wise, to visit Vatican City and see the Pope

This article is reproduced with the permission of Joan Lewis - Rome Bureau chief for EWTN

New web site for Vatican City State launched

Vatican City,July.19,2007(CINS) - TelecomItalia and the Governorate of Vatican City have developed a new web site for the SCV(Italian acronym for Vatican City State:Se Cristo Vedesse! - "if Christ could only see!")

Visit Vatican State

Vatican Apostolic Library to close for three years

Vatican City,July.16,2007(CINS/EWTN:Joan's Rome) - The world renown Vatican Apostolic Library has closed its doors from July.14th for a scheduled – and long overdue - renovation that will last three years. Scholars around the world have flocked to Rome in recent weeks and days, arriving early in the morning with high expectations of occupying one of the 92 seats available to researchers. Some of the Library’s services, however, will continue to function, such as the photographic reproduction of manuscripts. The Library did not give much advance notice of the closing and, as I write these words, its page on the Vatican website says nothing about the closure. In fact, Monday, July 16, the Library is scheduled to publish the names of the students accepted for the 2007-2008 course in Library Sciences. That may still happen, though I don’t know where they will study. The web page also has the name of the former Archivist and Librarian, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, whom Pope Benedict on June 25 named as head of the newly-revived Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. The new Archivist is former Library prefect, Italian Archbishop Raffaele Farina, and the new prefect is Msgr. Cesare Pasini, head of the celebrated Ambrosian Library in Milan. The centuries-old building housing the library is overdue for a major overhaul of the electrical system and air conditioning, among other things, but most especially the shoring up of the floors of this 16th century building which, due to sheer age and the growing weight of the volumes its houses, badly needs reinforcing. Pope Benedict visited the Vatican Library and Secret Archives on June 25 and, in his talk to the staff, noted that the Library is called "Apostolic" because "it is an institution considered since its foundation as the 'Pope's library'." Today, he said, it is "a welcoming home of learning, culture and humanity which opens its doors to scholars from all over the world without distinction of origin, race or culture. The job of those of you who work here every day is to safeguard the synthesis between culture and faith that emerges from the precious documents and treasures you hold." The Pope added that, in the Vatican Secret Archives, which opened their doors to scholars in 1881 by order of Pope Leo XIII, "it is possible to undertake not only scholarly research, of itself most laudable and praiseworthy, concerning periods distant from us in time, but also to pursue interests concerning epochs and times close to us, even very close. Proof of this are the first fruits produced by the recent opening to scholars of the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, ordered by me in June 2006." He referred to the "polemics" that arose following the publication of certain items of research, many regarding Pope Pius XII, his relations with Germany, Jews and the Holocaust but he praised "the disinterested and impartial service provided by the Vatican Secret Archives," which "steer clear of sterile and often weak partisan historical viewpoints and give researchers, without hindrance or prejudice, the documents in its possession, cataloged with seriousness and competency." Benedict XVI told the Library staff that “On my 70th birthday, I would have liked it if the beloved John Paul II had granted me the chance of dedicating myself to study and research on the interesting documents ... you safeguard so carefully, real masterpieces that help us follow the story of humanity and of Christianity. …The Lord had other plans for me and here I am among you, not as a passionate scholar of ancient texts, but as the pastor called to encourage all the faithful to cooperate for the salvation of the world, each one doing God's will where he places us to work." The Vatican Apostolic Library, whose earliest traces date back 1600 years, today serves scholars from all over the world with its nearly two million volumes and its catalogue of 17,000 titles, and welcomes them to its various departments, sections and services. As far back as the 4th century there was already evidence of the existence of the "scrinium" (box for filing documents) of the Roman Church, which served as both library and archives. The first papal library and archives were dispersed during the first half of the 13th century. New collections were moved to either Perusa, Assisi or Avignon. The current Vatican Library dates from the reign of Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455), who provided it with numerous manuscripts and its headquarters in the Apostolic Palace. With the Bull "Ad Decorem Militantis Ecclesiae," Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) named officials for the first time and established an office in a new building, the one used today by scholars. The first cardinal librarian was named by Pope Paul III (1534-1549). A century after losses caused by the Napoleonic revolution, the library grew again with numerous donations of manuscripts and books effected under the reign of Leo XIII (1878-1903), who facilitated consultation for scholars. Among current services offered are the Consultation Hall, with more than 90,000 volumes available to scholars; a workshop for photographic reproductions and another for document restoration; museums and galleries for exhibits; and automated information systems, including the electronic archives that can also be accessed via the worldwide Internet network. Joined to the Apostolic Library is the School of Library Sciences, instituted by Pius XI in 1934 and recognized by the Italian State in 1984. The school offers a yearly program of study, from October to May, which includes courses such as Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts, Modern Manuscripts and Archival Documents, How to Catalogue Manuscripts, Bibliology and Library History, The Valuable Book and Art Collections, Technical English for Library Sciences, Preservation Techniques, Binding and Restoration. With the Vatican closing its Library for three years, it seems that people might start flocking to the United States to study, specifically to the Jesuit-run St. Louis University whose web site has posted a story saying the Vatican Library “closure will make Saint Louis University's renowned Vatican Film Library even more important for the world's leading scholars and researchers. “The Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library, located in the University's Pius XII Memorial Library,” says the story, “holds microfilm copies of approximately 37,000 of the Vatican Library's 70,000 manuscript codices. Because of this extensive collection, officials from Rome are encouraging scholars to come to St. Louis during the renovation period. “Holding major portions of the Vatican's Greek, Latin and Western European vernacular collections as well as materials in Arabic, Ethiopic and Hebrew, the Vatican Film Library at Saint Louis University is one of the largest and most comprehensive libraries in the world for medieval and Renaissance manuscript studies. The Vatican Film Library also has microfilm of some of history's most important treasures, including early complete texts of the Bible and early works of Virgil. "The Vatican Film Library has not only the advantage of the concentration of the material, but it also has this wonderful research collection that's built up around it," said Dr. Gregory Pass, University librarian for special collections and director of the Vatican Film Library. "There are so many ancillary reference works and periodicals that are needed to carry out manuscript research. You need a very well-stocked library." Good for St. Louis University! Now it looks like there are fewer reasons to be discouraged about the temporary closing of the Vatican Library – though nothing will compensate the feeling that comes from walking into Vatican City through a centuries-old gate, passing muster with the 500-year old Swiss Guards and sitting in a building that dates from the 16th century and is just a stone’s throw away from St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pope’s private residence, as you read a manuscript from another millennium! Or going out for a wonderful pasta lunch in the nearby “Borgo.”

This summer, Vatican tradition brings flurry of decisions, documents

Vatican City, Jul.14, 2007 (CINS /CNS) - Before Pope Benedict XVI took off for his summer vacation in the Italian Alps, he engaged in a time-honored Vatican tradition: clearing his desk.

That resulted in a flurry of decisions and documents, some long-awaited and some complete surprises. Their common denominator, apparently, was that no one wanted to deal with them again when they returned to their offices in September.

Topping the list was the pope's July 7 apostolic letter on wider use of the Tridentine Mass. The document had been floating around so long that the Latin term "motu proprio," which refers to the form of the text, actually was making it into mainstream news reports.

The pope began consulting on the Tridentine question in late 2005, and in early 2006 he discussed a draft text with members of the Roman Curia and the world's cardinals.

The document then went into hibernation, and some people are still wondering why. After all, very few changes were made in the course of its preparation, according to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, a strong supporter of the pope's decree.

In the end, the pope acknowledged some apprehensions about his decision but made it abundantly clear that he wanted wider latitude shown to traditionalist groups who desire Mass in the old rite.

The outcome was not surprising to reporters covering the Vatican. What seemed a little odd was that such a sensitive document was not unveiled at a Vatican press conference.

Before his election, Pope Benedict participated in many such press conferences as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At best, these media events can head off confusion and resolve doubts about a document; at worst, they add unnecessary verbiage and risk veering off into irrelevant controversies.

Perhaps the pope weighed the option and decided that his voice -- in the Tridentine Mass letter and an accompanying explanatory letter -- was enough.

The lack of a press conference was also noticed on three other recent occasions: the release of the pope's letter to Chinese Catholics, a change in papal conclave rules and a doctrinal document insisting that the Catholic Church was the true church of Christ.

The letter to Chinese Catholics was so finely tuned that a press conference was probably never even considered. Again, the Vatican decided not to bury what the pope was saying in a lot of extraneous comment.

The China letter also had been expected for months and went through an ample review process involving Vatican departments and others.

In contrast, the pope's one-page letter changing the conclave rules dropped out of nowhere. Clearly, this was something the pope did not feel needed broad or lengthy consultation.

For journalists in the Vatican's press room, the conclave change was a reminder to always be prepared for anything. It simply appeared in the noon press bulletin, in Latin and with no translation.

Fortunately, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, had been briefed and could answer some questions. The pope's move effectively restored the two-thirds majority for all circumstances of papal election, eliminating a simple majority option.

The latest document to drop out of the Vatican pipeline was a statement reaffirming that the Catholic Church is the one true church, even though "elements" of truth can be found in other Christian communities. It was personally approved by the pope.

Although it agitated the ecumenical waters, the document said nothing new, raising the question of why it was released at this particular moment. The Vatican said it was because of possible confusion in theological and ecumenical circles.

Those who see a grand design in Vatican actions, however, suspected it may have been another olive branch to the breakaway traditionalist followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre -- just three days after the Tridentine Mass decree. In this reading, the Vatican has delivered a double demonstration, liturgical and doctrinal, that answers some of the Lefebvrites' strongest objections about the modern church.

The doctrinal document certainly illustrated Pope Benedict 's ongoing concern with the correct implementation of the Second Vatican Council. It was chock full of footnotes citing Vatican II documents and emphasized that the council never intended to question the "fullness of grace and truth" present in the Catholic Church.

In a similar manner, the decree on the Tridentine Mass insisted that the council had never officially abrogated the old liturgy, which can therefore coexist with the new Mass. As the pope said early in his pontificate, Vatican II teachings must be seen as reform and not as "discontinuity and rupture" with the past.

Pope Benedict also made some long-expected appointments in June and July. One of the most important was the naming of French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran as head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, a move that signaled priority interest in interfaith relations.

Five more appointments were announced, too. The timing probably had as much to do with logistics as anything: Summer vacation gives relocating prelates a chance to move their offices and, if needed, their residences.

As for the pope, he's not expected to return to his desk at the Vatican until the end of September. After nearly three weeks of "real" vacation in the mountains, he'll spend most of the summer at his villa in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome, where he keeps up a limited schedule of meetings.

This year, he'll interrupt his time at Castel Gandolfo for two pastoral visits: to Marian shrines in the southern Italian city of Loreto and the Austrian pilgrimage site of Mariazell.

Catholic Church alone is one, true church, says Vatican congregation

Vatican City, Jul.14, 2007 (CINS /CatholicOnline) – The Catholic Church is the one, holy, apostolic church of Christ, while other Christian Orthodox and Protestant denominations that “suffer from defects” share elements of “sanctification and of truth,” said the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.

Released July 10 under the title "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," the 1,200-word document was signed by U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and congregation secretary Archbishop Angelo Amato, and approved by Pope Benedict XVI before publication.

In the document — formulated as five questions and answers — the Vatican seeks to set the record straight on the intent of ecumenical efforts undertaken after the Second Vatican Council more than 40 years ago, saying some contemporary theological interpretation had been “erroneous … which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt.”

The document, published in Latin, English, French, Italian German, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish, was issued three days after the papal release of a document that revisited another key aspect of Vatican II by relaxing restrictions on the celebration of the Latin-language Tridentine Mass.

Noting that churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church “suffer from defects,” the doctrinal congregation acknowledged that “elements of sanctification and truth” may be present in them.

“It follows that these separated churches and communities … are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation,” the congregation said. “In fact, the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.”

The doctrinal congregation made clear that Vatican II did not modify but rather clarified and made explicit what may have been uncertain or unclear in the field of ecumenical relations. “The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change” Catholic doctrine on the church, it said, “rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.”

It said that the Second Vatican Council was clear in stating that Christ’s church “subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him.”

That phrase affirms that the “historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ” are only present in the Catholic Church, the congregation said.

It noted that the Orthodox faith communities are called “churches,” though separate from the Catholic Church, as they have retained apostolic succession, the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist. Because of those close bonds, the congregation said, they merit the title of churches and are seen as “sister churches” of specific Catholic churches.

Yet, Christian communities “born out of the Reformation” do not share that union as they “do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of orders,” the Vatican congregation said.

“These ecclesial communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called churches in the proper sense,” it said.

In a “commentary” issued with the document, the congregation said that “ecumenical dialogue remains one of the priorities of the Catholic Church.”

Yet, it stressed that such dialogue must be founded on “not just mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith.”

The congregation noted that, while "Catholic ecumenism might seem, at first sight, somewhat paradoxical,” the Second Vatican Council has sought to “try to harmonize two doctrinal affirmations” that, despite existent Christian divisions, “the church of Christ continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church” and that “elements of sanctification and truth do exist … in ecclesial communities that are not fully in communion with the Catholic Church."

“The fullness of the Catholic Church, therefore, already exists, but still has to grow in the brethren who are not yet in full communion with it and also in its own members who are sinners.”

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