Pope Francis continues to be full of surprises. Earlier this year, he declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year beginning on December 8, 2015, which will run through November 20, 2016. A papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus, was issued by the Vatican on April 11, 2015, and formally invokes the Holy Year, which is devoted to God’s mercy.
The tradition of the Jubilee Year dates back to 1300, and they are usually held every 25 or 50 years. The last “Great Jubilee” was declared by Pope John Paul II and held in 2000. It was particularly festive because of the turn of the millennium. Rome went through a lot of preparations for that year. Many buildings were cleaned and restored so the could look its best. Right now, Rome is scrambling to prepare for an anticipated increase in tourists, since pilgrims are expected come for the Holy Year.
If you visit St. Peter’s Basilica today, you’ll notice the three massive doors leading into the basilica. One of these is normally closed — the massive and beautiful “Holy Door.” Today, those doors are not only closed but also bricked up from the inside. On the first day of the Jubilee Year, however, Pope Francis will open the Holy Door to let the pilgrims enter the basilica.
Tradition dictates that going through the doors will take away one’s sins (albeit some other actions may be required as well). So, your chance to walk through these doors is coming up.
At the end of the Jubilee Year, the doors will be closed again, and their openings bricked up. Then, we will probably wait until 2025 or so for them to open up again.
This Jubilee Year begins on December 8, 2015, which is also the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Traditionally, the Pope comes to little Piazza Mignanelli, which is just around the corner from us near the Spanish Steps, on that day. In that piazza is the massive Column of the Immaculate Conception, and a statue of the Virgin Mary stands atop it.
With the help of local firefighters and their crane, the pope places a wreath in the hands of the Madonna. We saw Pope Benedict do this a few years ago, and Piazza Mignanelli and Piazza di Spagna were absolutely packed with people. With Pope Francis, a rock star of a pope, you can bet on a massive (but energized) crowd this December 8.