Pope Francis tweeted on October 31:   Vanity not only distances us from God: it makes us look ridiculous.

As I re-read that papal tweet before writing the following story on the arrest of a priest and lay woman in the Vatican over the weekend, it almost seemed fitting for today’s news. One could, however, add another adjective or two after the word “ridiculous.”

I fully intended to dedicate this column to Pope Francis’ marvelous Angelus yesterday, the Solemnity of All Saints, as well as his afternoon Mass at Verano cemetery but feel that this story – which falls into the journalism “creed” of “if it bleeds, it leads” – needed some background information.

So as not to leave you bereft of the lovely papal thoughts, below is a very small nutshell version of the Angelus – enough to start you seriously thinking about how you can become a saint. You see, I am sure that most people want to be good, holy people and perhaps even saints someday, and so his words at the Angelus become meaningful and encouraging.

As I wrote those words, I had a sudden flashback to the visit a few years ago of one of the sisters of my freshman year college roommate at St. Mary’s of Notre Dame. At the end of freshman year I had gone to California to visit Mary, her folks and her 7 siblings for several weeks. Mary’s sister Kathy said she was always struck by how I answered her Dad at the dinner table one night when he asked what I wanted to be, and I replied, “a saint.” And now, Pope Francis has encouraged me!

By the way, today, the feast of All Souls is a holiday in the Vatican. At 6 pm today, Pope Francis went down to the Vatican Gottoes to pray at the tombs of deceased Roman Pontiffs (I believe there are 19).



As is tradition in Rome on the November 1 Solemnity of All Saints, Pope Francis on Sunday celebrated Mass at Verano cemetery, Rome’s largest, where he spiritually joined all who, throughout the world in these days, pray on the tombs of their loved ones. In his homily on the Gospel account of the Beatitudes, the Pope said the Beatitudes are “the path of holiness, and the same path of happiness. It is the path Jesus has taken; indeed, Jesus Himself is this path.” (photo:


Earlier, as he recited the Angelus with the tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square on a slendid, springlike November day, hee explained that saints lived their lives in the grace of Baptism, behaving like children of God, trying to imitate Jesus. In fact, the Pope ad libbed “We are all children of God. Thus, we bear his name. His name is part of ours!  Isn’t that marvelous!”


Francis noted that saints are not only those who have been canonized, but can be anyone from our next door neighbors, to members of our own families or others we have met as we live our ordinary lives. “How many good people have we met in our lives; how often do we exclaim: ‘this person is a saint!’… These are the saints who live next door, not the ones who are canonized, but the ones who live with us.” He sytressed that “we must be grateful to these saintly people and to God for having given them to us as examples of how to live and die in fidelity to God and to the Gospel.”

What can one do to become a saint? The Hoy Father surely answered when he said: “Acts of tenderness, of generous help, of closeness can appear insignificant, but in God’s eyes they are eternal, because love and mercy are stronger than death.”


A statement was released today by the Holy See Press Office regarding the arrests over the weekend of two people, including a high ranking monsignor, who have been accused of removing and disseminating private and confidential Vatican documents. By Vatican law, this is an offense.

Following is the English language translation of that statement in Italian by Fr. Tom Rosica, English language assistant to the press office:

“As part of criminal investigations carried out by the Vatican Gendarmerie that have been underway for several months involving the removal and dissementation of news and confidential documents, last Saturday and Sunday two individuals were called in for questioning on the basis of the evidence gathered.

The individuals are an ecclesiastic, Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallegjo Balda and Doctor Francesca Chaouqui, who in the past were respectively secretary and member of COSEA (Commission charged to study and address the organization of Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, established by the Pope in July 2013 and subsequently dissolved after the completion of its mandate).

Following the results of the interrogation the two people were held in detention in view of the continuing investigation. Today the Office of the Promoter of Justice, in the persons of Professor Advocate Gian Piero Milano, Promoter of Justice, and Professor Roberto Zannotti, Assistant Promoter of Justice, has validated the arrest of the above individuals, but they released Dr. Chaouqui, against whom there were no precautionary requirements and also due to the fact that she cooperated with the investigation.

“The position of Msgr. Vallejo Balda remains under consideration of the Office of the Promoter of Justice.

“One should remember that disclosure of information and confidential documents is an offense under the Law no. IX of the State of Vatican City (13 July 2013) Article 10 (art. 116 bis C.P. ).

“As for the books ****announced for publication in the the next few days, let it be clearly stated at this time, as in the past, that such actions are a serious betrayal of trust granted by the Pope and, as to the authors, an operation that takes advantage of a seriously unlawful act unlawful delivery of confidential documents – an operation whose legal implications and possibly penalties are under study by the Office of the Promoter of Justice in view of possible further measures that will, if necessary, involve international cooperation. Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establishing clarity and truth, but rather they create confusion and partial and tendentious interpretations. We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope.”

**** JFL notes: Two books are due out on November 5 that purport to show, via confidential and private Vatican documents and interviews, growing opposition in the Vatican to Pope Francis’ ongoing reforms in the Roman Curia, as well as allege excesses in spending, especially on residences for some prelates.

One book, “Merchants in the Temple,” is by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi who, in 2012, penned a book, “His Holiness,” that reproduced confidential letters and memos to and from Benedict XVI and his personal secretary and others that, according to the Vatican, violated the Pope’s right to privacy. He had previously aired these on an Italian television program. It was revealed in May 2012 that the Pope’s personal butler was the author of the thefts and the person who gave the documents to Nuzzi. This eventually led to the affair being called “Vatileaks.” The butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested, underwent a trial and was subjected to house arrest, but later pardoned by Pope Benedict.

The second volume is “Avarice: Documents Revealing Wealth, Scandals and Secrets of Francis’ Church.” It was written by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi who writes for the Italian weekly, L’Espresso, which has previously published leaked Vatican documents, including the letter by 13 cardinals to Francis at the start of the 2015 synod. That was leaked by L’Espresso staffer Sandro Magister but later proven not to be the original letter. Nor were all 13 signatories names correct.

Saturday, May 19, 2012, Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi released a statement about the publication that morning of additional confidential Vatican documents, the so-calle Vatileaks documents. He said at the time:The latest publication of documents of the Holy See and private documents of the Holy Father can no longer be considered a questionable – and objectively defamatory – journalistic initiative, but clearly assumes the character of a criminal act.”

The Commission of which the two persons arrested were members, was instituted in July 2013 by Pope Francis and publicly announce a day later: “The Holy Father, by a chirograph dated 18 July, has established a Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the economic-administrative structure of the Holy See.

“The Commission will gather information, report to the Holy Father and co-operate with the Council of Cardinals for the study of the organisational and economic problems of the Holy See, in order to draft reforms of the institutions of the Holy See, with the aim of a “simplification and rationalisation of the existing bodies and more careful planning of the economic activities of all the Vatican Administrations.”



FYI: Pope Francis has released a collection of daily thoughts and meditations in Italian, a 413-page book called “Il Mio Breviario” (“My Breviary”). Published by Mondadori Editori, the book takes material from Pope Francis’s various statements, including homilies, encyclicals, general audiences, and Angelus addresses. (


Pope Francis dedicated the last three days to marking the solemnity of All Saints on November 1, the feast of All Souls yesterday, Sunday and celebrating the traditional annual Mass this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica for the deceased cardinals and bishops who died in the past year. A myriad of adjectives could be used to describe Francis’ words over these three days – beautiful, profound, moving, heartfelt – but Saturday’s homily at Verano cemetery stands out as it was not only powerful – it was unscripted!

I posted Vatican Radio’s interesting history of this monumental cemetery on my Facebook page (


At noon Saturday, the Pope prayed the Angelus with an enormous crowd of faithful who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square from all parts of Italy and every corner of the globe. He began his reflections by noting that, “the first two days of November are for all of us an intense moment of faith, prayer and reflection on the ‘last things’ of life. … Today we praise God for the countless host of holy men and women of all ages: simple men and women, who sometimes were the ‘last’ for the world, but ‘first” for God. At the same time we already remember our departed loved ones by visiting cemeteries: It is a source of great consolation to think that they are in the company of the Virgin Mary, the apostles, the martyrs and all the saints of Heaven!”

”Today’s Solemnity thus helps us to consider a fundamental truth of the Christian faith that we profess in the Creed: the communion of saints. It is the communion that comes from faith and unites all those who belong to Christ by Baptism. It is a spiritual union that is not broken by death, but continues in the next life. In fact there is an unbreakable bond between us living in this world and those who have crossed the threshold of death. We here on earth, along with those who have entered into eternity, form one great family. Francis commented that, “this reality of communion fills us with joy: it is nice to have so many brothers and sisters in the faith who walk alongside us, supporting us with their help and together we travel the same road toward heaven. And it is comforting to know that we have other brothers and sisters who have already reached heaven ahead of us and who pray for us, so that together in eternity we can contemplate the glorious and merciful face of the Father.”

After reciting the Marian prayer, the Pope noted that, “today’s liturgy speaks of the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. I invite you to pray that the Holy City, dear to Jews, Christians and Muslims, which in recent days has witnessed diverse tensions, always be a sign and foretaste of the peace which God desires for the whole human family.”


Saturday afternoon at Verano cemetery, Rome’s largest, Pope Francis celebrated Mass and, in his homily – which was totally unscripted! – spoke of the destruction of creation and also of the world’s refugees and homeless, calling them “the unknown saints.”  Referring to the first reading, he said, “we heard this voice of the Angel who cried aloud to the Four Angels who were given power to damage the land and the sea, ‘Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees’. This brings to mind a phrase that is not here but in everyone’s heart: men are capable of doing this better than you. We are capable of devastating the Earth far better than the Angels. And this is exactly what we are doing, this is what we do: we destroy creation, we devastate lives, we devastate cultures, we devastate values, we ravage hope. How greatly we need the Lord’s strength to seal us with His love and His power to stop this mad race of destruction!” (Photo L’Osservatore Romano)


The Holy Father said, “When I looked at the pictures in the sacristy of 71 years ago [depicting the WWII bombing of the area of San Lorenzo where the cemetery is situated], I thought, ‘This is so grave, so painful. This is nothing in comparison to what is happening today. Man takes possession of everything, believes he is god, believes he is the king. And wars, the wars that continue raging, not exactly helping to sow the seed of life but to destroy. It is an industry of destruction. It is also a system of life, that when things can’t be fixed they are discarded: we discard children, we discard the old, the young are discarded without a job … This devastation that is the result of the culture of waste. We discard people.  This is the image that came to my mind as I listened to the First Reading.”

The second image of this reading, said the Pope, is “this great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language … The nations, the people … It’s starting to get cold: these poor people, who have to flee for their lives, their homes, their people, their villages, in the desert … and they live in tents, they feel the cold, without medicine, hungry … because the ‘god-man’ has taken control of Creation, of all that good that God has done for us. But who pays for this party? They do! The young, the poor, those who are discarded! And this is not ancient history: it is happening today. ‘But Father, it is far away …’ It’s here too! Everywhere. It is happening today. I will say more: it seems that these people, these children who are hungry, sick, do not seem to count, it’s as if they were of a different species, as if they were not even human. And this multitude is before God and begs, ‘Please, salvation! Please, peace! Please bread! Please work! Please, children and grandparents! Please, young people with the dignity of being able to work!”  (Photo AFP)


In his extemporaneous homily, Francis went on to say, “Among these are also those who are persecuted for their faith, those ‘robed in white’ in the passage from Revelation: ‘They are the ones who come from great distress, and their robes are made white by the blood of the Lamb’. And today, without exaggeration, today on the Feast of All Saints, I would like us to think of all these, the unknown saints. Sinners like us, worse off than us, destroyed. Of this multitude of people who are in great distress: most of the world is in distress. And the Lord sanctifies this people, sinners like us, but He sanctifies these people in distress”.

”Finally,” said the Holy Father, “there is a third image, ‘God. The first, the devastation; the second, the victims; the third, God. God:’ Beloved, we are God’s children now,’ we heard in the second reading: what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’, that is: hope. And this is the blessing of the Lord that we still have: hope. Hope He will have pity on His people, mercy on those who are in the great distress and compassion for the destroyers that they will convert. And so, the holiness of the Church goes on: with these people, with us, that we will see God as He is. And what should our attitude be if we want to be part of this multitude walking to the Father, in this world of devastation, in this world of war, in this world of distress? Our attitude, as we heard in the Gospel, is the attitude of the Beatitudes. That path alone will lead us to the encounter with God. That path alone will save us from destruction, from destroying the Earth, creation, morality, history, family, everything. That path alone. But it too will bring us through bad things. It will bring us trouble.

”Persecution,” said Francis as he ended his unscripted homily, “But that path alone will take us forward. And so, these people who are suffering so much today because of the selfishness of destroyers, destroyers of our brothers and sisters, these people struggle onwards with the Beatitudes, hoping to find God, to find themselves face to face with the Lord in the hope of becoming saints, at the moment of our final encounter with Him.”


At the Angelus on Sunday, the Feast of All Souls, Pope Francis asked another huge crowd of faithful in St. Peter’s Square on a splendid November day, to pray for the world’s forgotten dead,  “those whom no one remembers,” the “victims of war and violence; the many “little ones” of the world crushed by hunger and poverty” and “the anonymous who rest in common graves.”

“Yesterday,” said Francis, “we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints, and today the liturgy invites us to commemorate the faithful departed. These two occurrences are intimately linked to each other, just as joy and tears find a synthesis in Jesus Christ, the foundation of our faith and our hope. … Yesterday and today many people visit cemeteries, which, as the word itself implies, are ‘places of rest’, as we wait for the final awakening. … With this faith we stop – even spiritually – at the graves of our loved ones, those who have loved us and have done good deeds for us. But today we are called to remember everyone, to remember everyone, even those whom no one remembers. We remember the victims of war and violence; the many ‘little ones’ of the world crushed by hunger and poverty. We remember the anonymous who rest in common graves. We remember our brothers and sisters killed because they are Christians; and those who sacrificed their lives to serve others. We especially entrust to the Lord, those who have left over the last year. The Holy Father said that, “Remembering the dead, caring for their graves and prayers of suffrage, are witness of confident hope, rooted in the certainty that death is not the last word on human fate, death is not the last word, because man is destined to a life without limits, which has its roots and its fulfillment in God.”

He then raised this prayer to God:

”God of infinite mercy, we entrust to Your immense goodness all those who have left this world for eternity, where you await all humanity, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ Your Son, who died to save us from our sins.

“Look not Lord, at our poverty, misery and human weaknesses when we present ourselves before You to be judged in happiness or condemned.

”Gaze upon us with pity, born of Your tender heart and help us to walk the path of purification. May none of your children be lost to the eternal fires of hell, where repentance is no more.

”We entrust to You Lord, the souls of our beloved departed, of those who died without the comfort of the Sacraments or who did not have the opportunity to repent, not even at the end of their life.

”May no one fear the encounter with You at the end of their earthly pilgrimage, in the hope of being welcomed within the embrace of your infinite mercy.  May sister death find us in prayerful vigilance, and full of all the good we have done during our existence, be it long or short.

”Lord, may nothing distance us from you on this earth, may everything and everyone support us in our ardent hope to serenely and eternally rest in You. Amen”

Sunday evening at 6, as is traditional on the feast of All Souls, Pope Francis descended into the grottoes beneath the high altar of St Peter’s Basilica to pray before the tombs of his predecessors. There is traditionally a moment of prayer, a Scripture reading and the recitation of the prayer for the dead, after which the Pope pauses in silent prayer before several of the tombs of his predecessors, starting with the tomb of St. Peter. (Photo L’Osservatore Romano)



The synod on the family is over but talk about marriage and the family continues in the Vatican. in part as prelude to the October 2015 synod on the family, Part Two. In fact, from November 17 to 19, 2014 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will host a colloquium in Vatican City, in cooperation with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” It is a global, inter-religious meeting featuring representatives from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries. Pope Francis will open the meeting.

Sessions will be opened successively by the leadership of each of the cooperating Vatican offices, followed by the presentations and witness testimonies of leading religious figures and scholars.

Each session will also premiere one of six short films treating men and women and marriage the world over. Each film features a variety of illuminating interviews with young and old, single and married, women and men, lay and religious, from many cultures, continents and religions. Topics range from the beauty of the union between the man and the woman, to the loss of confidence in marital permanence, to the cultural and economic woes that follow upon the disappearance of marriage.

Go to to see the trailer video mentioned above.


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!)