Pope Francis’ general prayer intention for November: “That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.”

His intention for evangelization: “That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.”


My guest this weekend on Vatican Insider is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C. We spoke outside the Paul VI Hall during the morning coffee break on Wednesday during the second and final week of the recent synod on the family. It is fascinating to hear him talk now, given that he spoke during the synod and the synod itself ended two weeks ago and a lot has been said since.


Cardinal Wuerl was on the committee that wrote the Final Report of the synod, a document quite changed from the interim report that had been released on Monday, October 13, two days before we spoke in Rome. Translation issues from Italian to English on that interim report – which was just that, an interim report, a draft, not a final document – caused massive confusion that week on a number of hot button issues (like the pastoral ministry for homosexuals) among synod participants, the media and the faithful around the world.

Yesterday, however, the Vatican released the official English translation of the Final Report (At the synod only the Italian text was considered an official document) . Click here to read that report:


A communique published today by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” announced that the council secretary, Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso is on his third and final day in Damascus, Syria where he has been attending the meeting of the assembly of Catholic bishops in Syria. Msgr. Dal Toso also met with various institutions, especially Catholic, that are currently involved in humanitarian aid activities in the country.

Cor Unum, meaning “one heart,” is considered the Pope’s charity arm.

In these meetings, special appreciation was expressed for the commitment of the Holy Father and the Holy See to supporting the Christian communities and the population as a whole, who suffer as a result of the conflict, and for encouraging dialogue and reconciliation among the various parties.

Emphasis was also placed on the important role of Catholic aid organisms that serve and benefit all Syrians. However, said the communique, in the face of an ever-growing need, this assistance will have to be intensified in the future through the generous contribution of the international community.


ANSA, the Italian news agency, in a report on Halloween and the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls on Saturday and Sunday, notes that, throughout Italy, the Catholic Church has taken pains to organize October 31 events in hopes of drawing youth away from the temptation of carving a pumpkin or attending a Halloween costume party.

Alternative events, said the report, include all-night prayer vigils, Masses, and Christian rock concerts. “It’s OK to have a party if the children want one, but let us not forget All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day,” said the Catholic weekly, “Famiglia Cristiana” (Christian Family).

“This kind of feast…does not belong to our Christian roots,” commented Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi.

Halloween is not a traditional date on the Italian calendar but has been growing in popularity in recent years, with trick-or-treating becoming more common and pumpkin sales rising. ANSA says that Codacons, a consumer group, reports that some 10 million Italians celebrate Halloween each year, spending an estimated 300 million euros ($420 million). More than a million pumpkins are sold at this time and stores known for Carnevale costumes, now sell masks, costumes and accessories.

One place in Italy has a much longer Halloween history. A small town in the southeastern region of Puglia, Orsara di Puglia, has been celebrating it for the past 1,000 years, says ANSA. According to local historians, the only real difference between the American tradition and the town’s version of Halloween is the date. Halloween, a secular take on All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, is traditionally celebrated on the night of October 31, but in Orsara di Puglia the pumpkins come out on the evening between November 1 (All Saints Day) and Nov 2 (All Souls Day). Hollowed-out and candle-lit pumpkins are placed outside homes on the evening of All Saints Day to keep away evil spirits and witches. Townsfolks also light huge bonfires in the streets so as to illuminate the path of souls on their way to Purgatory.

Historians have traced Orsara’s tradition back to a short-lived 8th-century incursion by a Germanic people, the Longobards, who in more northern parts supplanted older civilisations and reigned as the Lombards.


The November 1 solemnity of All Saints, and November 2 feast of All Souls were always holidays in the Vatican during the years I worked there and today, November 1, no matter what day of the week it falls on, is always a big holiday in Italy, When I was at the Vatican, John Paul II was Pope and we celebrated his baptismal name day, Karol (Charles), on November 4. That day was always a holiday because the Vatican and Roman Curia always celebrated a Pope’s name day. When the stars aligned and November 1 and 2 fell on a Friday and Saturday and November 4 on Monday, we had a four-day weekend.

Thinking about those years as I did today, the vigil of All Saints Day, I remembered a column I wrote about this holiday the first year I began writing Joan’s Rome.

Art Buchwald, a famous humorist and columnist wrote an annual column for the Washington Post about Thanksgiving. Even if you almost had it memorized from years of reading, you still enjoyed reading it every Thanksgiving. Today I present my (now annual) All Saints column in the hopes that you enjoy it, whether you were a Joan’s Rome fan in 2006 or have recently joined the team!

I have checked some of the prices I quote in this story and have found – no surprise – that most of them have increased, some of them markedly, in the past three years.

Here is that (updated) 2006 column:

As I write this column, there is an almost unreal morning silence outside – unreal for Rome whose chaotic traffic, 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 the Vatican – November 1, the feast of All Saints. The Vatican also observes November 2 – All Souls Day – a commemoration 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. If November 1 falls on a Tuesday or Wednesday, for example, Italians will take off the days prior to that date and enjoy a really long “ponte” weekend.

November 1 is such an important day for Italians that many newspapers 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 opening 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 <i>cimitero</i> 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.

An estimated one million people are expected to visit Rome’s cemeteries in the weeklong period dedicated to the deceased. The city always makes 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).

Once a Rome daily even featured 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. I don’t have the figures for 2014 but in recent years average funeral costs ran about 6,000-8,000 Euros ($7,500-10,000, adjusted for inflation), with cremation costing between 3,000-4,000 Euros. These prices are supposed to include a walnut coffin with zinc interior (except for cremation, of course), flowers, the burial and documents. However, say newspapers, the best bargain is still a funeral paid for by the city, as they cost several thousand Euros less.

Churches worldwide usually have Sunday Mass schedules on November 1 as it is a Church precept that Catholics must attend Mass on All Saints Day.

On November 1 it is tradition at the Vatican for Popes to celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of All Saint’s at the Campo Verano cemetery in Rome and, on the following day, November 2, All Souls Day, to lead a prayer service in the Vatican Grottoes for all deceased Popes. That is, in fact, what is on Pope Francis’ agenda this weekend.

And, although these are predominantly religious celebrations, secularism has crept in. Masks and costumes, witches and pumpkins and orange and black color schemes have invaded Italy and those items and colors will be seen throughout the peninsula tonight as revelers celebrate All Hallows Eve.

The price of flowers soars for about a week every year during this season. I learned a very hard lesson about Italian customs on this feast day the first year I was 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 – because they were bigger flowers, they seemed more impressive as a bouquet. Surely just the thing to bring a smile to Lina’s face, I thought.

Well, I knew the minute I walked into her hospital room that something was wrong. I saw a strange look on her 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 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, Italians seem to frown on flowers in hospitals any time of the year.)

Like other hard-learned lessons in Italy, this was one mistake I never repeated.

My wish for you, my readers, is that you have a blessed and prayerful All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

(P.S. I realized just now that, among the tens of thousands of photos I have taken over the years, I have none of a Halloween theme in Rome!)