December 20-27, 2012
A Letter from Dr. Robert Moynihan:
“Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy!” (Luke 2:10) Christmas is a wonderful time to be in Rome. The entire city seems to light up with a special joy, and throughout the city it is more peaceful than usual. Little red and white lights flicker on kiosks set up in Piazza Navona, and the Vatican sets up a larger-than-life manger scene in St. Peter’s Square, right next to the obelisk. Roman grandparents stroll with their grandchildren through the streets to look at the manger scenes and little displays of stuffed animals and other children’s gifts. We will join them. People throughout Rome tend to be more courteous to one another “in the spirit of the season,” and the entire city can actually seem to become a small village. We, too, will become “Roman villagers” at Christmas.
Our visit to Rome and the Vatican at Christmas will be centered on the Incarnation, on the mysterious and marvelous “fact” of the entrance into human history, in our same human flesh, of the divine, the author of all things. So we will read together some of the great Christmas sermons from ages past, and we will study together certain passages from Pope Benedict’s new book on the “infancy narratives” in the Gospels – the stories of Jesus’s birth. And, of course, there will be a strong Marian dimension, for Christmas is a time when we reflect on Mary’s “Fiat” (“Let it be”) – “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Her acceptance of the message of the angel Gabriel brought about the Incarnation… brought about a new creation… and for that, we honor her still today, and always….
And when we will meet with others, in and around the Vatican, it will be an occasion to explore these truths together: Mary, and her role in salvation, and Christ, and how the coming of the Messiah changed all things forever. All of our Friends of Inside the Vatican pilgrimages are planned to be quiet and prayerful. Although we will visit many special places, our journey is a pilgrimage, not a tour. The spiritual dimension, the search for a deeper understanding of God and of our relationship to Him, is central. This is why the pace of our pilgrimages will be slow, not rushed. There will be time to think and to pray.
Friday, December 21 – Upon your arrival in Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Friday morning, December 21, we will be there to welcome you. We will then accompany you to a private car, which will bring you in to the center of Rome and into Vatican City itself—one of the most ancient and beautiful places in the world. There, inside Vatican City, you will have a room in the Domus Santa Marta, or “House of St. Martha.” St. Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus—all of Bethany—was known for her hospitality, and this house is meant to be a place where visitors to the Vatican are received with great warmth and friendliness.
Our first day will be devoted to recovering from the long trip, and will focus on interior reflection. We will have a quiet welcome lunch, and then take a leisurely “familiarization walk” inside Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica. Our first day will include confession in St. Peter’s Basilica—just a 2-minute walk from the Domus—near the tomb of St. Peter. That will be followed by a Mass in the Basilica at 5 p.m. Following Mass, we will walk out of the Vatican for a dinner at a local restaurant called La Vittoria, owned and operated by a friend, Claudio. This dinner will be a convivial affair, and will bring to a close our first day in Rome.
Saturday, December 22 – Our second day in Italy will focus on Vatican City, the smallest country in the world, and its relation to Rome, which entirely surrounds Vatican City (we will also visit a bit of the city of Rome). During the morning, we will have a chance to stroll through the Vatican Gardens, on the same paths men like Pope Pius XII used to walk on each afternoon. After lunch, we will visit the excavations under the basilica, called the scavi, which take us right back to the time 2,000 years ago when the area was a cemetery next to a race course. We will then walk out into the city of Rome itself, which will be decorated for Christmas. We will visit the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, and watch Italian families out on their own pre-Christmas strolls.
Sunday, December 23 – On our third day in Rome, we will focus on the liturgy, what it is, and how it has changed over the centuries. We will begin with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10:30 a.m., then go outside into the piazza to be present as Pope Benedict recites the noon Angelus, and imparts his blessing. After lunch in the Domus Santa Marta, we will visit the three other patriarchal basilicas in Rome, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Each of these churches is a splendid monument to the Faith and contains treasures of art and faith which can take one’s breath away.
In St. Mary Major, for example, there is a painting of Mary (photo below), which is believed to be by St. Luke himself, and so it is the oldest painting of Mary in the world. It is called the Salus Populi Romani (English: the Protectress of the Roman People) — Protectress is a translation of the Latin “salus” which means “salvation” or “health.” The icon is kept in the Borghese or Pauline Chapel in the front of the church to the left of the altar. It has historically been the most important Marian icon in Rome, and was crowned by Pope Pius XII in 1954. Pope Benedict XVI has venerated the Salus Populi Romani on different occasions, and has asked Mary on each occasion to “pray for us.” The Roman Breviary states: “After the Council of Ephesus (431) in which the Mother of Jesus was acclaimed as Mother of God, Pope Sixtus III erected at Rome on the Esquiline Hill, a basilica dedicated to the honor of the Holy Mother of God. It was afterward called Saint Mary Major and it is the oldest church in the West dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The Salus Populi Romani is one of the so-called “Luke images” of which there are many throughout the world. These were believed to have been painted from the life by St. Luke himself. According to the legend: “after the crucifixion, when Our Lady moved to the home of St. John, she took with her a few personal belongings — among which was a table built by the Redeemer in the workshop of St. Joseph. When pious virgins of Jerusalem prevailed upon St. Luke to paint a portrait of the Mother of God, it was the top of this table that was used to memorialize her image. While applying his brush and paints, St. Luke listened carefully as the Mother of Jesus spoke of the life of her Son, facts which St. Luke later recorded in his Gospel.” Legend also tells us that the painting remained in and around Jerusalem until it was discovered by St. Helena in the fourth century. “Together with other sacred relics, the painting was transported to Constantinople where her son, Emperor Constantine the Great, erected a church for its enthronement.” So this icon is, in some ways, the greatest treasure in the entire city, as it is connected back through St. Luke to Mary, and to a table made by Christ Himself. In the presence of this icon, we are able to sense the presence of the Holy Family as something close and real to us. St. John Lateran is the oldest and ranks first among the four papal basilicas of Rome since it is the cathedra or “seat” of the Bishop of Rome. For centuries, the Popes lived here, not in the Vatican. The façade has the inscription Christo Salvatori (“To Christ the Savior”), indicating the church’s dedication to Christ—the cathedrals of all patriarchs are dedicated to Christ himself. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches, including St. Peter’s, and so, unlike all other Roman Basilicas, it holds the title of Archbasilica.
St. Paul’s Outside the Walls (photo below) is dedicated to the Apostle to the Gentiles, who was beheaded in Rome. His
tomb is here. This very impressive church contains the images of all the Popes in little circular portraits.
We will only have a few hours to see these historic, impressive basilicas, so we will concentrate on the meaning of each of the buildings, and the life and work of each of the saints to whom these basilicas are dedicated.
We will end our afternoon near the Spanish Steps, where we will be able to walk to dinner in a lovely Roman restaurant, which is one of our favorites.
Monday, December 24, Christmas Eve: Now it is Christmas Eve! For this very special day, which focuses on the nativity of Christ, that is, on the incarnation, we will begin with a very special visit to the some of its greatest treasures: the Vatican museums.
One of the Museum’s own special guides will go with us, beginning in the Sistine Chapel , where the papal elections occur, beneath a vault depicting the creation of the world and of man, and a high chapel wall depicting the Last Judgment, so that the walls of this chapel contain, in a condensed form, the entire history of man and of the universe. (So our pilgrimage will include sleeping in the residence where the papal electors will sleep, and standing in the chapel where the papal electors will vote…)
After lunch, we will rest because we need to be prepared to stay up late for the midnight Mass liturgy. We will gather for supper at the Domus Santa Marta, then attend the splendid Christmas Eve liturgy celebrated by Pope Benedict himself. The Mass will begin at 10 p.m. We will be in the basilica at midnight, when Christmas begins….
Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25 – Our Christmas Day in the Vatican will begin with opening presents under the tree and greeting each other with the great joy of the feast. After a relaxing morning, we will walk to St Peter’s Piazza to hear and see Pope Benedict deliver his Urbi et Orbi Christmas message to the faithful around the world. We will celebrate a traditional Italian Christmas dinner in one of our favorite restaurants. We will then head out into the city to see some of the great places of Christian Rome: the Appian Way, and visit to the “Quo Vadis, Domine?” church (“Where are you going, Lord?”) It is on this spot that Peter, fleeing from Rome where he was about to be arrested, met the Lord, asked Him where He was going, and the Lord told him, “Back to Rome, to be crucified a second time.” And Peter turned and went back, and was arrested imprisoned, and finally executed. And if he had not turned back, the Basilica of St. Peter, and the Vatican, would not be in Rome today… This will allow us a chance to reflect on the gifts given to us by the saints, who is their suffering handed on to us a message and a belief and a way of life that leads to true joy.
Wednesday, December 26 – For our post-Christmas day of pause and reflection, we will focus on the sequela Christi, the following of Christ, that is, what it means to be a Christian and model one’s life on the life of Jesus. And to help us in this reflection, we will travel to Assisi (photo left), the jewel of Umbria, where St. Francis of Assisi was born, lived, and died. In 1223, St. Francis created the first nativity scene. We will visit the tomb of St. Francis and St. Clare, walk through the streets of Assisi, and look down over the peaceful valley which seems almost unchanged since Francis lived there 800 years ago. It will be December, and possibly a bit chilly, so all pilgrims will need warm jackets, caps, scarves and gloves. We will return to Vatican City for our last night of rest near the tomb of St. Peter.
Thursday, December 27 – And on the seventh day in Rome, rising early, we will transport you to the airport for your return home. Farewell to Rome, Eternal City – you will have wonderful memories of your time in the Vatican, and in Rome, and in Assisi, and with the Pope at Christmas…
–- Robert Moynihan
Founder, Publisher and Editor of Inside the Vatican magazine
Day 1: Preparation – preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ
Thursday, December 20, 2012 – Depart United States via overnight flight to Rome
Day 2: Recollection – collecting ourselves… confession
Friday, December 21, 2012 – Arrive in Rome, private transfer to Vatican City,
overnight in Vatican City at the Domus Santa Marta
Day 3: Advent is drawing to a close…
Saturday, December 22, 2012 – Tour Vatican Gardens, Scavi Tour – tomb of St. Peter, Pantheon and Piazza Navona
Day 4: 4th Sunday of Advent… Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel!
Sunday, December 23, 2012 – Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, 12:00 noon Angelus with Pope Benedict XVI, visit major basilicas in Rome: St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St Paul’s Outside the Walls
Day 5: Christmas Eve…attend Midnight Mass offered by Pope Benedict XVI
Monday, December 24, 2012 – Tours Vatican Museums, Midnight Mass (10 pm) with Pope Benedict XVI
Day 6: Gaudete! Christus natus est! (Rejoice! Christ is born!)
Tuesday, December 25, 2012 – Attend Pope Benedict’s Urbi et Orbi’s message and blessing in St. Peter’s Piazza, celebrate Christmas with a traditional Italian Christmas dinner, visit the Appian Way and the Church of St. Mary in Palmis
Day 7: The Second Day of Christmas… in Assisi, home of St. Francis, who created the first Creche
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 ¬– Travel to Assisi for the day, overnight in Vatican City
Day 8: The Third Day of Christmas… Going home…
Thursday, December 27, 2012 – Depart for the United States
December 20 – 27, 2012
Vatican City: Christmas with Pope Benedict XVI and a visit to Assisi
- Spend 5 nights at the Domus Santa Marta inside Vatican City, directly adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica
- Private tour of the Vatican Gardens
- Tour of the tomb of St Peter, the Scavi Tour
- Private tour the Swiss Guards’ Barracks
- Dine in Vatican City’s only dining room outside the Papal Palace
- Daily Mass celebrated in the Domus Santa Marta or in St Peter’s Basilica
- Dinners with Dr. Robert Moynihan and special guests and friends of Inside the Vatican magazine
- Private tour of St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum—visiting closed areas that are off limits to the general public—and the Sistine Chapel
- Spend one day touring the beautiful and peaceful medieval city of Assisi
- Visit the Basilica of St. Francis and pray at his tomb
- Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, inside of which is St. Francis’ Portiuncula
- Visit the Basilica of St. Clare and pray at her tomb
- Meet some of our Franciscan friends in Assisi
- $5,500.00 per person – Land and Air Package ($1,000 air allowance)
- $4,500.00 per person – Land Package
- No additional fee for a single room
- Comprehensive travel insurance is included
- 2 meals per day are included
- Registration Packet – Christmas 2012
- Deposit of $500 by check, made payable to Inside the Vatican magazine, is required
at the time of booking
- Due to private access to sacred areas, we request that all pilgrims provide a brief note of recommendation from their bishop or local parish priest (we supply a sample letter)
- Number of pilgrims is limited 12 pilgrims to allow for a peaceful and personal experience
- This pilgrimage helps support the Domus Santa Marta inside the Vatican, and Inside the Vatican magazine
We will make every effort to adhere to the printed program and itinerary. On rare occasions it may be necessary to adjust arrangements due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control (including such circumstances as the weather, airline schedule change, hotel requisitions, political disturbances, or transportation mechanical problems). Should such adjustment be necessary, substitution will be made to the best of our abilities.
For more information or to reserve your spot: