Rome and the Year of Mercy

Did you know that 2016 is a Year of Mercy? No? I didn’t either, until I talked to my mum on the phone last autumn.

“We should do something for your birthday,” she suggested. “I think we should fly to Mallorca. Everyone always goes there for weekend trips. Why don’t we?” I don’t know who ‘everyone’ is but I liked the idea. My birthday’s in January, meaning a sunny place to escape the cold would be welcome, and since in 2016, it was on a Sunday, it was the perfect excuse for a weekend trip.

Except we never made it to Mallorca. Turns out there were no acceptable flight connections. And since my parents leave from a different airport than my brother and me, finding a suitable destination wasn’t easy. But we didn’t give up and instead decided to go to Rome. While my parents and me had been there already, my brother hadn’t and Rome is a city always worth revisiting. As soon as I mentioned our plans to a friend, she told us to go through ‘that door in the Vatican’ because 2016 was supposed to be a holy year.

Did you know that the Catholic Church is on the internet? I had to register online for walking through the holy door. It was an easy process and soon, my family and me stood near the Castel Sant’Angelo, waiting to start our pilgrimage to St Peter’s.

We’re not religious. I was baptised as a small child, mainly because that was what everyone did at the time. But my church visits are limited to Christmas time and it’s been a long time since I last believed in God. Which is why I was sceptical at first, when we were offered the chance to join a group of nuns. In the end, it was the best thing we could have done. One of them walked ahead, holding a huge wooden cross that was passed from one person to another. We stopped at designated points and listened to the nuns’ prayers. After a long wait to get through security, we finally made it to St Peter’s.

Rome - Pilgrimage
Always follow the cross

Volunteers along the way stopped the other tourists to let us pass. And then, there it was. The Holy Door. The nun in front of me stopped to utter a short prayer. I let the people carry me along, trying to take it all in and suddenly, I was standing in the middle of the church.

Rome - St Peters 2
At the end of our pilgrimage – isn’t the church stunning?

I didn’t really get a chance to look at the door. It was open, which means that it was difficult to look at already, and I didn’t want to hold everyone up. If it hadn’t been for the nuns, it would have felt like a fast-track entrance to get into St Peter’s. But the group we had joined made it worthwile. I’ve always had a soft spot for people praying, no matter their religion. The atmosphere was unbelievable. The nuns were so friendly, letting my brother carry the cross and making us feel welcome, even though we didn’t speak a word of Italian and they barely spoke English.

Here’s my recommendation for you: No matter your religion, register online to walk through the Holy Door. The year of Mercy is an exception but usually, the door is open only once every twenty-five years. 2016 is your chance to walk through it! Try to join a group of pilgrims to make your experience more worthwhile. Because no matter what you believe in, you couldn’t get a better glimpse of what faith means for those people.

Rome - St Peters 1
While you’re here, don’t forget to climb on top and enjoy the view.

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