**COVID-19 can impact anything at this hard time. I went in 2019, and am not informed on any coronavirus restrictions. Please check the website for updates.
So you’re Catholic? Or maybe not! Maybe your family is or you’re curious about the religion. Maybe you just want a crazy once in a lifetime experience.
In my case, it’s my family that is Catholic. My dad and his siblings have a load of stories from their school days with the nuns. I was baptized as a Catholic, but as I grew older have decided I am not religious. This doesn’t mean I resent or have anything against people that do believe. Or else I wouldn’t have went to see Pope Francis himself, and I would have to shun my poor grandma who I love dearly. I just simply decided for myself.
The reason I decided to go through so many head aches to make it happen during my Rome trip was two reasons: I wanted to FaceTime and take pictures for my grandma (I did and it’s something she will always remember), and even though I don’t follow a religion all religions still fascinate me. Also, I love this Pope, he’s inspiring and has common sense!
As a kid, I was put in a new church camp every summer and went to church almost every Sunday. I’ve read the bible and have sited a lot of it back to priests and volunteers of the past. I’ve sang church hymns and volunteered for churches myself. We celebrated Easter, Christmas, and all other Catholic holidays every year so I am no stranger to how this works or what going to church is like. I was very new to what going into Saint Peter’s Basilica to see the Pope would be like.
Maybe you found this article by chance and are curious about how to see the Pope. OR maybe you are like me a few years back, frantically searching the internet looking for any small detail to help you get your tickets into the Basilica on Christmas Eve. It’s no easy task. It takes a lot of planning and most of all, luck! I hope this post answers a lot of your questions, and if not, leave a comment for me to get back to.
This determines it all. Plan, plan, plan. Two things that you have to plan first: getting your tickets, and planning a trip to the Vatican! (Rome) Most people plan special trips during Easter or Christmas to see his holiness on the holy holiday itself. Although, Pope Francis holds other events and masses throughout the year, see the schedule here. We decided to make the trip during Christmas, so this post will be more relevant to then, but getting your tickets is all the same process you just won’t have to plan so far ahead of time. In fact, according to the website, you might not have to plan at all but just show up and get some tickets.
Easter and Christmas Eve are a whole other story. Good luck, and I mean it! These two masses are televised for around the world to see, and are a dream for all Catholics to experience. If you think you’re going to Rome for the holidays and thought about going to the Vatican for Christmas, trust me, you are not the only one. The basilica holds 15,000 people and it’s a miracle to be one of them. Please don’t let this discourage you from going, I just want to burn in your mind how important it is to plan ahead!
All Papal tickets are given the same way, Christmas Eve or any given Papal mass. You have to snail mail a letter to the Vatican, and wait for a letter to come back. Fill out the request form found here, and mail it to the address also on the same page. When we went to the post office to get an international stamp, the lady kept refusing because she didn’t think the Vatican was a country. The address is correct and it will arrive how it’s suppose to. You can also fax a request for tickets, but I tried for weeks and never got through.
Some people have luck receiving tickets through the US Visitors Office. I also tried this when getting tickets, but they told me I will receive an email a few weeks ahead of Christmas Eve if I will be getting them or not. I did eventually hear back, and they did not give me tickets. Unless this is a last resort, I don’t recommend it. If you want to try, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, make sure you give it plenty of time before hand. We mailed our letter request 6 months in advance!
Grab Your Tickets
Grabbing your Papal mass tickets is the same all year around. Head to the “Bronze Doors” passed security where a Swiss Guard will be standing, it’s very hard to miss them in their colorful attire. We picked out tickets up the day of, but you can also pick them up the day before from 3-6pm. If you do decide to grab them the day of, they will only be there from 7-10am.
This is only for groups under 10 people. If your group exceeds 10, you will receive specific instructions in the letter from the Vatican, in response to your ticket request. Or if you received tickets through the US Visitors Office, you will need to pick the tickets up at their office under their discretion.
Show Up Early
If you’re like me and hate waiting, this is gonna be a long day. I could not find anywhere online what time to show up for Christmas Eve Mass. I wanted a good seat and it was extremely important to me to make sure I got it.
We grabbed our tickets, ate the biggest lunch we could fit in our stomach, and just hung out waiting for something to happen in the main square. Luckily for us, we over heard some people near us also wondering where the lines for mass would start. Finally, around 2pm one of them was told by a security guard where one of the lines would begin. They let us know, and we all jumped quickly to start one of the 4 or 5 lines to get into the Basilica. The National Guard eventually cleared Vatican City and put up dividers to keep everyone out. We successfully were first in line!
Make sure you make friends with the people around you in line. I saw a lot of people run to a nearby bathroom, and were put in the back of the line by the local police because people accused them of cutting. Use the bathroom early too, they put dividers against the line when it starts to get longer, so it will be impossible to get back into your spot. Im warning you, these lines get long so the earlier, the better. There were people from all over the world speaking all sorts of languages in shock that they had to stand in such a long line.
Choose A Seat Wisely, Fast, and Enjoy!
When they opened the gates for everyone to enter Saint Peter’s Square, it’s literally like running of the bulls! Security screaming at everyone to slow down, but no one listens. We were first in line, but when we finally entered the basilica after security, we were maybe in the top 50 inside the building first.
My recommendation is try your hardest to get a seat near the isle the Pope walks down. These were the seats everyone went for first, so unless you’re one of the first in line, try to just get as close as possible. I recommend the isle seats because you won’t have to look over a whole crowd of people to see anything, and also it gives you the opportunity for a Pope photo within two feet of him. Even if you’re in the first row, you still have all the monsignors and bishops to look over.
The Mass lasted about 2-3 hours and included singing, praying, and of course readings from the Pope. Also, you are given communion from the monsignors and get to watch Catholic leaders from around the world walk down the famous isle before finally Pope Francis enters. You get to see all sorts of outfits and different looking people, all in one building. Taking the time to appreciate all the diversity is part of the experience, even living in the United States I have never had an experience like that before. And I don’t think I ever will again.
Lastly, there is bathrooms in the Basilica, just find your seat first, and take turns within your group going.
I’m going to be real, waiting in line was the worst part of this whole experience. There was a few Americans in line that were yelling at everyone, for what seemed like everything. There were Italians near us who snarked at the idea of Americans coming to Europe with the audacity to basically run the place. I don’t blame them. There was also an enormous amount of people who would try to cut the line. I swear I cannot count on two hands how many fights almost broke out in this line. To see the Pope. On Christmas Eve. It blew my mind.
Although, when we finally got our seats and met the people around us. Everything was finally what you dream of. We did not sit near anyone from the same country, that spoke the same language. The Mass is in Italian, but you are given a program in English (and other widely spoken languages) to follow along. Also, we sat next to a lady from Brazil who spoke Italian, and she was kind enough to fill us in as the night went along. We met a lot of wonderful, memorable friends this night.
If waiting in line and planning six months in advance isn’t your flow, Pope Francis does also speak in Saint Peter’s Square on Christmas Day. It’s a public speech where this Pope historically also talks on world issues. We watched it on TV the next day because it was an early morning. No reservations are needed, it’s first come first serve but it’s outside so a large amount of people are able to come. Overall though, going through the long day and planning really is worth it. You most likely will only do it once, and the stories you get to tell and the memories you will have are able to stay with you forever.
I hope I’ve inspired you to go for a once in a lifetime experience, and to take advantage of seeing the Pope while in Rome. Even on a last minute trip, it’s worth a try.
Feel free to comment with questions or insight, like this post, and subscribe to my blog for further posts.