I am in Washington, D.C. this week for two important events and am just a short drive away from Baltimore where the U.S. bishops are meeting for their annual fall assembly, Several bishops are in Rome, as you will read below, for their “ad limina” visits and thus not in Baltimore for today’s vote on the new USCCB president and vice president. However, arrangements have been made at the North American College where they are staying to watch the Baltimore proceedings. They will be able to cast a written vote in Rome and two of their brother bishops will tally the written votes and communicate them orally and directly to the Baltimore meeting.

There is an event tonight at CUA, Catholic University of America, a special viewing of a new documentary on the life of Cardinal Francis George, the first Chicago native to become the Archbishop of Chicago, and a CUA alumnus. Following the film, a panel presentation featuring bishops and laity who worked with the Cardinal and knew him best will be offered.

The moderator is Professor Chad Pecknold of CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, and panelists include Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Michael Heinlein, Mary Hallan FioRito and Robert Royal. Bishop Barron, scheduled to be present, had to make a presentation to his fellow bishops in Baltimore.

So much of my life was intertwined with Cardinal George during his years in Chicago that I really wanted to attend this event, inaddition to knowing all the panelists.

The second event I will be attending this week will be at the apostolic nunciature and is offered by the Bethlehem University Foundation. This is an annual event and I am always happy to be present when possible because I am a big fan and follower of the Middle East’s only Catholic University (more later this week)

A number of the U.S. bishops and cardinals tweet or post blogs when they are in Rome for their “ad limina” visits. Cardinal O’Malley of Boston did so last week when bishops from his Region I were in Rome.

Cardinal Dolan has been posting since traveling to Rome yesterday for the start of another regional “ad limina” meeting with Vatican office and the Holy Father. ( ( He is part of Region II (New York).

Some info from the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) website:

Episcopal Regions, Archdioceses, and Dioceses in the U.S.
In the United States, there are 195 archdioceses/dioceses, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
§ 145 Latin Catholic dioceses
§ 32 Latin Catholic archdioceses
§ 15 Eastern Catholic dioceses
§ 2 Eastern Catholic archdioceses
§ 1 Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA
§ 1 Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter

There are currently 7 Vacant (Arch)Dioceses in the United States:
§ Diocese of Alexandria – Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Apostolic Administrator
§ Archdiocese of Atlanta – Bishop Joel M. Konzen, Apostolic Administrator
§ Diocese of Helena – Rev. Msgr. Kevin O’Neill, Diocesan Administrator
§ Archdiocese of Anchorage – Bishop Andrew E. Bellisario, CM, Apostolic Administrator
§ Diocese of Shreveport – Very Rev. Peter B. Mangum, Diocesan Administrator
§ Diocese of Rapid City – Very Rev. Michel Mulloy, Diocesan Administrator
§ Diocese of Gary – Rev. Michael J. Yardon, Diocesan Administrator

Bishops: There are 432 active and retired (arch)bishops in the United States
Active Bishops:
§ 5 Cardinal Archbishops
§ 28 Archbishops
§ 157 Diocesan Bishops
§ 76 Auxiliary Bishops
§ 4 Diocesan Administrators

Retired Bishops:
(in accordance with Canon Law, all Bishops are required to submit their resignation upon reaching retirement age of 75. However, the Pope can accept a Bishop’s resignation at any point regardless of age)
§ 5 Retired Cardinals
§ 18 retired Archbishops
§ 96 retired Diocesan Bishops
§ 45 retired Auxiliary Bishops

by Vatican News/USCCB

The Bishops of the United States are set to elect a new President and Vice-President of the episcopal conference, during the fall general assembly that opened on Monday in Baltimore.

In addition, the Bishops are expected to vote for the chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and for Chairman-elect of five standing committees: on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance; Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Evangelization and Catechesis; International Justice and Peace; and Protection of Children and Young People.

On the Agenda
The agenda for the Fall Meeting will also feature votes on the Program for Priestly Formation, for use in the United States; and supplements to the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, addressed to all the faithful, concerning the political responsibility of Catholics.

Bishops of the Latin-Rite will also be asked to vote on translations of two documents: the “Order of Christian Initiation of Adults as the base text for a future edition of this rite for use in the United States; and a translation of the “Hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours”.
In addition, the Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs will request authorization of the full body of Bishops to lead the process of developing a new formal statement and comprehensive vision for Hispanic/Latino ministry in response to the V Encuentro process, a process of ecclesial reflection meant to discern the way in which Latino Catholics respond as Church.

The Bishops will also vote on the Revised Strategic Priorities for the 2021-2024 Strategic Plan for the USCCB, as well as the proposed budgets for 2020. They will elect the new Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services, which carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas.

Finally, the Bishops are also expected to hear an update on progress toward establishing a nationwide, third-party reporting system for abuse or misconduct by Bishops.


I posted this link on my Facebook page today and now want to share it with my blog readers – a great story from Thailand about the upcoming papal visit:


My guest this weekend and next in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider” is Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We spoke when he was in Rome to talk about his latest book, Reason, Faith and the Struggle for Western Civilization. (Acton photos)

Sam talks about the genius of Western civilization with its unique synthesis of reason and faith and we learn that that synthesis is under attack from the East by radical Islam (faith without reason) and from within the West itself by aggressive secularism (reason without faith). He writes that the naïve and increasingly common assumption that reason and faith are incompatible is simply at odds with the facts of history. You will not want to miss that conversation!

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


Pope Francis met with a delegation from the Salvation Army on Friday, and said that holiness is best shown in concrete acts of goodness and solidarity.
By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

The Salvation Army is both a Protestant Christian church and an international charitable organization, whose membership numbers over 1.7 million. Known as Salvationists, members seek to bring salvation and humanitarian relief to people in need.

In his address to the delegation on Friday, Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for “the witness [Salvationists] give to the primacy of discipleship and service to the poor.”
He added that it makes them “a credible sign of evangelical love”.

Humble service
The Pope told the delegation about the first lesson he ever received in ecumenism. When he was four years old, he met several members of the Salvation Army while with his grandmother. “Their example of humble service to the least of our brothers and sisters spoke louder than any words,” he said.

Pope Francis also recalled what the previous director told him when they met in 2014: “Holiness transcends denominational boundaries.” Francis said, “the holiness that shows itself in concrete acts of goodness, solidarity, and healing speaks to the heart and testifies to the authenticity of our discipleship.”

Catholics and Salvationists, said the Pope, can work well together on this basis, cooperating in “a spirit of mutual respect, even in leading a holy life.”

Gratuitous love
Pope Francis said gratuitous love shown to others in acts of service both attracts and convinces. Young people, he noted, need that type of Christian witness, since they often lack positive examples in daily life.

“In a world where selfishness and divisions abound, the noble fragrance of genuine self-giving love can offer a much-needed antidote, and open minds and hearts to the transcendent meaning of our existence,” he said.

Service and solidarity
Finally, the Pope thanked Salvationists for caring for the homeless and marginalized in Rome, as well as for their efforts to fight human trafficking. “Let us remember one another in our prayers and continue to work together to spread God’s love through works of service and solidarity.”


You may recall reading on November 1, 2019 on LifeSiteNews and many other media outlets, secular and not , that “Pro-abortion former Vice President and 2020 Democratic hopeful Joe Biden has commented on a priest recently upholding Catholic teaching by denying him Holy Communion, saying, “It’s not a position that I’ve found anywhere else, including from the Holy Father, who gives me Communion.”

How come no one has followed up by asking Biden to show the world a photo of Pope Francis giving him communion?

I have obviously not been to every Mass that Pope Francis has presided at but when I have been present, he has never given out communion to the faithful. He might give communion to those priests, deacons or acolytes who assist him during Mass, but that is one of the exceptions. He has given communion to First Communicants, that is, both young children going for the first time – last May 6 in Bulgaria, the Pope gave First Holy Communion to 245 children – and adults received into the Church at RCIA at the Easter vigil.

You might want to read this piece by Sandro Magister: Why Pope Francis Doesn’t ive Communion:


On Sunday November 10, 2019 at 16.30 in the Cathedral of San Pietro Apostolo in Frascati (Rome) there will be the closing ceremony of the diocesan phase of the cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement. The ceremony will be presided by the Bishop of Frascati, Mons. Raffaello Martinelli. Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement will be present.

If by any chance you have plans to be in Lucerne, Switzerland between November 7 and the 10th, you will have an opportunity to meet two Swiss Guards according to a communique today from their Vatican headquarters: “For the first time, the Pontifical Swiss Guard will have its own stand at the Central Switzerland Education Fair in Lucerne from Thursday November 7 to Sunday the 10th. During the training fair in Lucerne, two active guards will be present in uniform at Stand D 2099, in Hall 2, next to the Lucerne Police. They will present the job of the Pontifical Swiss Guard and will gladly answer the questions of interested visitors.”

As I read today’s general audience catechesis I could not help but think this sounds like what is needed in the Amazon vis a vis evangelization. I know it sounds like over-simplification but do we need thousands of words to describe evangelization? I know the Amazon region also need priests but perhaps the seminaries should be open to indigenous males. If you recall Pope Francis’ closing words at the final meeting of the Amazon synod participants, he said: “There was talk, very forceful, of indigenous Seminaries. I thank Cardinal O’Malley for his courage in this because he put his finger on the sore in something that is a real social injustice, which is, in fact, the Indians are not allowed to go on the seminarian path and on the path of the priesthood.”

That was a stunning affirmation that no one seems to have made note of! I was breathless when I read that sentence and spoke about it on October 30 with Teresa Tomeo on “Catholic Connection” and am looking into this situation to find out why and when the cardinal made his remarks (I do not recall this being highlighted at Vatican press briefings) and to look into regional seminaries.


As he does the first days of each month, Pope Francis released a video message with his prayer intention for November 2019 in which he invites us to pray that, “a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation emerge in the Middle East.”

Francis speaks in Spanish as a video is shown with English subtitles.

Following is the full text:
In the Middle East, concord and dialogue among the three monotheistic religions is based on spiritual and historic bonds. The Good News of Jesus, risen out of love, came to us from these lands. Today, many Christian communities, together with Jewish and Muslim communities, work here for peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Let us pray that a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation emerge in the Middle East.

The prayer intentions and videos are prepared by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Click here to see video and text:


As he has done for weeks now, Pope Francis today continued his weekly general audience catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles, focusing on St. Paul who, in his myriad travels, preached in Athens, seeking to explain the Gospel to non-believers.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” began Pope Francis as he addressed pilgrims who sat through rain and then very blue skies in St. Peter’s Square. “In our catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles, we now see the Apostle Paul preaching before the Areopagus in Athens, the cultural capital of the pagan world. In a city filled with idols, Paul proclaims the Gospel by appealing to the religiosity of his hearers and their desire to know the truth.”

The Holy Father explained that, “Seeing an altar dedicated to an ‘unknown god’, Paul states that God, the transcendent Creator of the world, has indeed made himself known, and sent his Son among us to call all people to conversion and the fullness of truth.”

“Yet,” he emphasized, “when Paul begins to speak of Christ’s death and resurrection, his listeners lose interest. The mystery of the cross, in which God’s wisdom and power are revealed, appears as folly in the eyes of the Greeks. Yet Paul’s preaching bears fruit in the conversion of some Athenians, including Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris.”

Francis told the faithful, “As we think of our own culture, may we, like Paul, be sensitive to people’s deepest yearnings in order to propose the mystery of Christ and his saving love.”



An interesting note on the weekly calendar sent out by the Vatican’s Communication Dicastery to media who are accredited to the Holy See Press Office:

November 5 marks the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Vatican City on this date in 1943. The attack took place at 8.05 pm when an unknown plane dropped four shattering bombs of medium size on the side of the Vatican gardens looking towards the Janiculum hill. The bombs struck the Vatican railway station, the mosaic workshop and then, finally, strafed the back of the Governorate’s Palace, used at the time not only for offices but also for private homes.




Pope Francis celebrated a Requiem Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica this morning for the cardinals and bishops who died during the past year. His homily, consisting of reflections on the Resurrection, focused on Going to Jesus, Going Forth, Going toward Others, Going toward the End.

Click here to read more and to see the entire video of the papal Mass.


Pope Francis received members of the International Federation of Catholic Universities and reminded them that the fruits of study must have a relational and social purpose.

By Vatican News

“New Frontiers for University Leaders: The Future of Health and the University Ecosystem” is the theme of a forum being held in Rome dedicated to the topics and challenges currently driving university transformation.

University challenges
Pope Francis outlined some of those challenges in his discourse. They include preparing new generations to become qualified professionals, but also “proponents of the common good, creative and responsible leaders in social and civil life, with a proper vision of the person and the world,” he said.

Universities today “need to consider what contribution they can and must make to the integral health of the person and to an inclusive ecology,” said the Pope.

Catholic universities, in particular, need to become places “where solutions for civil and cultural progress for individual persons and for humanity, marked by solidarity, are pursued with perseverance and professionalism,” he said.

The Pope noted how the development of “technoscience,” the way humanity interacts with technology, is “destined increasingly to influence people’s physical and psychological health.”

We need to remember that all teaching “entails asking ourselves about the why,” he said. “It requires a reflection on the foundations and purposes of every discipline.” Abstracting knowledge from its ethical dimension would mean abandoning the task of teaching, said the Pope.

Facing the questions of “why” involves the “typically epistemological character of education which concerns the whole span of knowledge,” continued Pope Francis. “The link between knowledge and purpose refers to the theme of intentionality and to the role of the subject in every cognitive process. Completely impersonal experiences do not exist,” he said.

In this light, universities have “an intellectual and moral energy whose responsibility goes beyond the person to be educated and extends to the needs of all humanity,” added the Pope.

University ecosystems
The moral imperative of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, said Pope Francis, is to achieve “a more united international academic community,” in order to develop “a universal spirit aimed at increasing the quality of the cultural life of persons and of peoples.”

University ecosystems develop, said the Pope, “when every member of the university, by focusing on the whole person, cultivates a particular awareness of the context in which people live and grow, and of all that contributes to their advancement.”

Mind and Heart
The formation of leaders achieves its goal, continued Pope Francis, when it imbues the academic years with developing both “the mind and the heart, conscience, together with students’ practical abilities. … The fruits of study must always have a relational and social purpose,” stressed the Pope.

Saint John Henry Newman
Pope Francis concluded with a quote from Cardinal John Henry Newman, patron of the Federation of Catholic Universities.

The Church, wrote Newman, “fears no knowledge, but she purifies all; she represses no element of our nature, but cultivates the whole.”


At the end of the Extraordinary Missionary Month, Vatican News provided some extracts from the book-length interview of Gianni Valente from Fides News Agency with Pope Francis, in which the Pope emphasizes that, “Either the Church evangelizes or she is not Church.” The book, published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana and Edizioni San Paolo will be available in bookstores on November 5th.

Pope hands mission cross to a missionary (Vatican media) –

For those excerpts:


Pope Francis this afternoon, All Souls Day, said Mass in the Roman catacombs of St. Priscilla in the presence of a small group of faithful and delivered an off-the-cuff homily.  Following is a history of the catacombs offered by Vatican media as well as some photos they sent out late this afternoon.

The photos the Vatican offers include Pope Francis but if you wish to see photos that correspond to the description of the different rooms, tombs and halls of the catacombs, click here:


The Catacombs of Priscilla sit on the Via Salaria with its entrance in the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Priscilla. It is mentioned in all of the most ancient documents on Christian topography and liturgy in Rome and, because of the great number of martyrs buried within it, it was called “regina catacumbarum” – “the queen of the catacombs.”

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This cemetery was lost like all the others after the entrances were blocked to protect it from thievery; however, it was also one of the first to be rediscovered, in the sixteenth-century. A large portion of the funerary inscriptions, sarcophagi, stones and bodies (presumed to be those of martyrs) were subsequently taken away; nevertheless, the catacomb does preserve some particularly beautiful and important paintings, the most significant of which are included on the regular visit.

The Galleries of the Cemetery
Dug into the tuff, a soft volcanic rock used to make bricks and lime, the galleries have a total length of about 13 kilometres, at various depths. The first level, which is the most ancient, winds along in a series of galleries; the walls are full of “loculi,” the most common kind of tomb. The bodies were laid within them, directly on the dirt, wrapped in a shroud, sprinkled with lime to restrain the normal process of decay, and sealed in with pieces of marble, or tiles.

Inscriptions were written in Greek or Latin on the tombs, or small objects placed near them to help identify graves with no inscription. Only on this level, where the martyrs were buried, do we find the small rooms known as “cubicula” (“bed chambers”), which were the tombs of wealthier families or of the martyrs themselves. Likewise, we find here the “arcosolia,” another type of tomb for the upper classes, often decorated with paintings of religious subjects.

Most of the stories depicted are Biblical, from both the Old and New Testaments, an expression of faith in the salvation and final resurrection obtained for us by Jesus Christ. The stone inscriptions on the tombs are often marked with symbols whose meaning was known to the Christians, but not to the pagans. The best known of these is the fish, the Greek word for which, ICHTHYS, was read as an acronym for the corresponding Greek words that mean “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.”

The Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman
This room is named for the picture in the semi-circle on the back wall, in which a young woman, wearing a rich purple garment and a veil on her head, lifts up her arms in prayer. On either side of her are two scenes unlike any others among all of the paintings in the various catacombs, probably episodes of her life. In the middle, the Good Shepherd is painted in the Garden of Paradise, amid peacocks and doves. Before this scene, in the arch above the door, the prophet Jonah is shown emerging from the mouth of a sea-monster, a clear expression of faith in the Resurrection. The semi-circle on the left depicts the Sacrifice of Isaac, while on the right are shown the Three Children in the fiery furnace in Babylon; both of these episodes are expressions of faith in God’s salvation, understood by the first Christians as prophecies of the salvation brought by the coming of Christ. These pictures, which are in a remarkably good state of preservation, date back to the second half of the third century.

The Greek Chapel
When this area was found, it was full of dirt that had come down through the light shaft in the ceiling; it is named for the two Greek inscriptions, painted in the right niche, which were the first things seen by its discoverers.

Richly decorated with paintings and stuccos in the Pompeian style, it is formed of three niches for sarcophagi and a long seat for funeral banquets, called “refrigeri” or “agapae,” which were held at the tombs in honor of the dead.

The painting in the central arch at the back, on a red background, shows just such a banquet, but with a clear reference to the banquet of the Holy Eucharist, which also was sometimes celebrated by the Christians near venerated tombs. Seven persons are seated at the table, the first of which is breaking the bread as he stretches out his hands; at the sides of the table are seven baskets, a reference to the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes, when Jesus also promised the bread of eternal life.

Several episodes of the Old Testament are also shown: Noah on the ark; Moses making water run from the rock, a prophecy of the saving waters of baptism; the sacrifice of Isaac; and three stories of miraculous deliverance from the book of Daniel (Daniel among the lions; the three children in the furnace; Susanna accused of adultery by the elderly judges in Babylon, and saved by Daniel). Episodes of the New Testament are also depicted, such as the resurrection of Lazarus, and the healing of a paralytic; the former demonstrates Christ’s power over death, the latter His power over sin. The adoration of the Magi is also represented, a very common image in the Christian cemeteries of ancient Rome, symbolizing the universality of salvation, since the Three Kings were the first pagans to adore Christ.

The Niche with the oldest image in existence of the Virgin Mary.
The image of the Good Shepherd in stucco, (much of which has unfortunately fallen off,) is found on the upper part of a niche which was later expanded into a gallery, most likely because of the presence of a venerated tomb. He is standing among some trees that are stucco on the bottom, but fresco on the top where we see leaves and red fruits painted in vivid color. On either side of the trees there were two more images, but the one on the left has completely fallen away.

On the right is preserved an image of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus on her knee; a prophet stands next to her, holding a scroll in his left hand, and pointing to a star with his right. This seems to refer to the prophecy of Balaam, “A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel” (Numbers 24, 15-17). The presence of the prophet indicates that the Child is the Messiah awaited for many ages.



My guest this week on the interview segment of Vatican Insider is Patrick Reilly, president and founder of the Cardinal Newman Society. We spoke about the Society when he was in Rome for the October 13 canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the namesake of this organization whose mission, as its website says, is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education. We talk about the work and outreach and challenges of the Society, including the many court challenges to faith-based institutions in U.S society.

This week is Part II of our conversation.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


Today, November 1 is the Solemnity of All Saints, and, as is traditional on this day, the Holy Father recited the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. All Saints is a holy day and a holiday in Vatican City and in Italy, and throngs of people travel this weekend.

The Holy Father said, “the Saints are not some distant, unreachable human beings, rather they walked the same difficult path of life along which we travel, with all its successes and failures.” Holiness, he said, cannot be achieved through our own strength, rather it is “the fruit of God’s grace and our free response to it,” making it both a gift and a call.

“Holiness is the path of fullness that every Christian is called to follow in faith, proceeding towards the final goal: definitive communion with God in eternal life.” It requires us to embrace God’s gift responsibly and to “take on a serious and daily commitment to sanctification in all the conditions, duties, and circumstances of our lives, seeking to live everything with love, with charity.”

The Saints who now stand before the throne of God, said Francis, “admitted during life that they needed the divine light and so abandoned themselves to it in trust. …They constitute the ‘Holy City’ to which we look with hope as our definitive goal, as we make our way through this ‘earthly city, fatigued by the bitterness of the journey.” So, he said, “we are encouraged to imitate them.”

After the Marian prayer, Pope Francis said that tomorrow, November 2, feast of All Souls, he will celebrate the Eucharist in the Catacombs of Priscilla, one of the burial places of the first Christians of Rome. He said: “These days, when, unfortunately, there are also messages of negative culture about death and the dead, I invite you not to neglect, if possible, a visit to and a prayer at a cemetery.”


As I write this column – my traditional column for the November 1 Solemnity of All Saints – there’s been an almost unreal silence outside today, unreal for Rome whose chaotic traffic and honking horns, if nothing else, can cause untenable noise pollution. To enjoy silence, most Romans look forward to Sundays, holidays and the months of July and August when people go away on vacation.

It is so quiet because today is a big holiday in Italy and Vatican City – November 1, the feast of All Saints. The Vatican also observes November 2 – All Souls Day – as a day off, a day that used to be an Italian holiday but has been removed from the calendar of public holidays. Not that that makes much difference to Italians who use any excuse to create what they call a “ponte,” a bridge to an extra long weekend. Thus, given that today, Friday, is a holiday, a number of Italians will take the day off and have a three -day weekend. They might have even left their home town last night!

Today at noon, as he usually does on Sundays and solemnities, Pope Francis recited the Angelus with the faithful and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square. I posted those reflections elsewhere.

It is tradition at the Vatican for Popes on November 1 to celebrate Holy Mass for the Solemnity of All Saints at a Rome cemetery, for many years Campo Verano, and, on the following day, November 2, to lead a prayer service in the Vatican Grottoes for all deceased Popes.

Again this year, however, Francis has changed things. In fact, after today’s Marian prayer, Pope Francis said that tomorrow, November 2, feast of All Souls, he will celebrate the Eucharist in the Catacombs of Priscilla, one of the burial places of the first Christians of Rome. He said: “These days, when, unfortunately, there are also messages of negative culture about death and the dead, I invite you not to neglect, if possible, a visit to and a prayer at a cemetery.”

November 1 – the feast of All Saints – is such an important day for Italians that newspapers – and now social media and websites – publish special inserts on how to get to a city’s cemeteries, where to park cars, what shuttle buses are available within cemeteries, etc. Cemetery hours – usually longer in the October 29 to November 5 period – are posted, as are the hours and routes of the “C” busses (“C” for cimitero or cemetery).

In Rome there are 12 cemeteries and each one has special rules and regulations and opening hours. The larger ones will also have free shuttles buses (because no cars will be allowed) to take people to the graves of loved ones. In Rome’s largest cemetery, Verano, 16 stops have been programmed for these buses.

One million people are expected to visit Rome’s cemeteries in the weeklong period dedicated to the deceased, although gray, rainy weather may deter a few. The city always make a concerted effort at this time of year to clean cemeteries of trash, to repair walkways and even headstones and to do some serious gardening. Visitors too will clean tombs, bring fresh flowers and entire families will meet to mourn their dearly departed as well as to celebrate their lives. And then family members will usually all go out for lunch or dinner, sometimes even taking a picnic lunch along (though not for eating in the cemeteries – even though that is what the very first Christians did when they gathered at burial grounds or in the catacombs).

One Rome paper a few years back even published a survey on the cost of funerals, saying “there is some meager consolation for those in mourning in the capital of Rome because a funeral there costs the least” of all cities questioned for the survey. They run about $2,750 in Rome, and, on the high end, cost $4,560 in Milan with Turin and Genoa somewhere in between. These prices include a walnut coffin with zinc interior, flowers, the burial and documents. However, says the paper, the best bargain is still a funeral paid for by the city, with Turin being the best buy at 660 Euro or $844, and Genoa being the costliest at 2,000 Euro or $2,560.

I’m guessing prices have changed significantly since those numbers were published.

Prices for flowers greatly increase at this time of year and I learned a hard lesson my first year in Rome

It was the very end of October and I went to a private clinic to visit a friend who had just had serious surgery. I wanted to bring Lina an impressive bouquet of flowers to cheer her up but my budget did not allow for “impressive.” So I did the best I could. I bought about 8 or 10 chrysanthemums – being bigger flowers, they seemed more impressive as a bouquet. Surely just the thing to bring a smile to Lina’s face!

Well, I knew the minute I walked into the room that something was wrong. I saw a strange look on Lina’s face (and also on the face of a cousin visiting her, a priest), but never for a minute did I associate it with the flowers. We chatted and visited and faces seemed to brighten up, so I dismissed the first impression I had received that something was wrong.

Only much later did I learn that chrysanthemums are viewed by Italians as the flower of the dead and are the flowers that most people bring to place on the graves of their loved ones! Fortunately for me, Lina and Fr. John were wonderful, understanding friends who gently, some time later, told me what bringing chrysanthemums to someone in the hospital just days before the feast of All Saints is just not done! (Actually they seem to frown on flowers in hospitals at other times of the year as well.)

Like other hard-learned lessons in Italy, this was one mistake I never repeated.
Today, but especially tomorrow, Italians visit cemeteries in huge numbers, cleaning the graves of their loved ones and bringing votive candles as well as armloads of flowers, especially chrysanthemums. The price of flowers goes up steeply twice a year – on November 1 and 2 and on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. On that day in Rome people bring flowers to the Piazza di Spagna, Rome’s celebrated Spanish Steps, placing them at the base of the column with the statue of Mary or on a table near the column. The loose flowers are then woven by priests and brothers into large bouquets or wreaths and placed near or on the column.