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How to See the Pope in Rome

Getting to see the Pope in Rome can be the highlight of your trip. 

pope francis saint peter's squarePope Francis greets the crowds during a Papal Mass in Saint Peter's Square. Copyright @romewise.

First make sure he is in town when you will be here.

Visit the Vatican website, choose your language, and look at the calendar so you can check Pope Francis’ schedule. (His schedule is not announced that far in advance, max 2-3 months.)

Or, you can download the free and handy Pope App (Yes! There is a Pope App!) 

Looking for a Brief  History of the Vatican? Visit my page here.

What are the Different Ways I Can See the Pope in Rome?

If you want to see Pope Francis on your visit to Rome, here’s everything you need to know:

Click here to find out about getting tickets to Papal Audiences and Papal Masses.

See the Pope in Rome - Wednesday Papal Audience

Perhaps the easiest way to see the Pope in Rome is to attend a Papal audience. These are held (almost) every Wednesday, when Pope Francis is in Rome.

It’s quite easy to get Papal audience tickets, so if you will be in Rome on a Wednesday (and assuming he is in town), why not add this to your itinerary?

Saint Peters SquareSaint Peters Square at the Vatican - where most Papal audiences are held

The Papal audience is not a Mass. It is an opportunity to listen to the Pope give an address in Italian, followed by prayers, a homily, and perhaps some singing.

At the end of the ceremony, the Pope will bless religious articles. So if you have any rosaries, medallions, bibles or other religious objects, bring them along.

The Papal audience is not a private audience with the Pope.

If you attend a Papal audience, it means that you will join hundreds, if not thousands, of other people, and watch Pope Francis address the crowd.

The Papal audience is usually held outside in Saint Peter’s square. When it’s raining heavily, or very cold, the Papal audience is held inside at the Hall of Pope Paul VI (to the left of St Peters Basilica as you are facing it.)

If there are large crowds, there may be one group in the Audience Hall and one group in St. Peters Basilica.

And, in the late summer, if the pope goes to his summer residence just outside Rome at Castel Gandolfo, then it may be held there.

The Pope does not hold public masses or audiences inside the Sistine Chapel.

So far, Pope Francis has decided against spending his summer vacation at Castel Gandolfo, so he has not held a Papal Audience there yet. On the other hand, he did open the Barberini gardens there to the public. 

Papal Audiences are held on Wednesday mornings at 10:00am or 10:30am, and last from 1 - 1 ½ hours. If you want a good seat, or in fact a seat at all, I’d recommend arriving by 7am

Tickets are required for attending the Papal audience. Click here to find out how to get them for free.

pope francis during papal audiencePope Francis greets the massive crowd during the Papal audience. Photo courtesy of the Catholic Herald

But, just because you have a ticket does not mean you will get a seat, or even get in. The later you arrive, the less chance you have of a seat, a decent view, or, sometimes, of even being allowed in if the crowds are too large.

Wondering exactly what is the Vatican? Find out here!

See the Pope in Rome - Sunday Angelus

If you want to see the Pope in Rome, and are here on a Sunday, head to Saint Peter’s Square at noon for the Angelus.

Pope Francis will appear from the window of an apartment there. He gives a short speech followed by the Angelus, ending with an Apostolic blessing. He may also greet the crowd in various languages. The blessing, including the various greetings, usually lasts a maximum of 20 minutes.

Pope Francis chose not to live in the official papal residence in the Apostolic Palace. Instead, he lives in the Vatican guest house. However, the Pope does appear at the window of the Apostolic Palace for the Sunday Angelus.

You DO NOT need tickets for the Sunday Angelus. But you should plan to get there early to get a good spot.

See the Pope in Rome - Non-holiday Papal Masses

All Liturgical Celebrations conducted by the pope (Papal Masses) require a ticket. It's free and easy to request them.

For tickets to most Papal Masses, you may request tickets up to a few days prior to the event. Papal Massses are held fairly regularly, and may be held in various churches around Rome, not just Saint Peters.

For example, the Pope may visit one of the other Patriarchal Basilicas in Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major), San Giovanni in Laterano (Saint John in Lateran), or San Paolo Fuori le Mura (Saint Pauls Outside the Walls.)

major basilica of santa maria maggiore in romeThe basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where Pope Francis visits on occasion

In another example, on Ash Wednesday, the Pope usually gives mass at Santa Sabina, a beautiful ancient basilica on the Aventine Hill.

To see a schedule of upcoming Papal Masses (and also to request tickets), visit the website of the Prefecture of the Papal Household.

See the Pope in Rome - Holiday Papal Masses

Of course, tickets to very popular Papal Masses, in particular for Christmas Eve and for Easter Sunday, may be difficult to come by. Everyone wants to see the Pope in Rome for these masses!

saint peters square at christmasSaint Peters Square at Christmas

But it doesn't hurt to ask. If you really want to see the Pope in Rome during Christmas or Easter, your best bet is requesting these particular tickets at least 6 months in advance.

If you don’t or cannot get tickets, you may still attend. You will just be outside the church where the mass is being held, and you can watch it unfold on giant Jumbotron screens.

Both Christmas and Easter seasons offer a lot of different Papal Masses you may attend.

The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome

Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.

In my 3-day itinerary, you'll see all the major must-see Rome attractions like the Vatican, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Castel Sant'Angelo, and much more.

And if you have more time, or want suggestions for extra/other things to do, you'll find that there too.

Visit my page with the best 3-day itinerary in Rome for first-timers.

Easter Papal Masses

Following are the Papal Masses taking place over the Easter holiday season. Tickets are required for almost all events, and for midnight Mass on Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday, they will be especially difficult to come by. For specific dates, visit the page about Easter, which is updated each year.:

  • Ash Wednesday (first day of Lent, 46 days before Easter Sunday.) The Pope holds Mass in the Saint Peter's Basilica at 5pm.
  • Palm Sunday, Blessing of the Palms, Procession and Holy Mass (one week before Easter.) The Pope holds Mass at in 9:30 Saint Peter's Square.
  • Holy Thursday (Thursday before Easter Sunday.) The Pope holds Holy Chrism Mass at 9:30 inside Saint Peter's Basilica.
  • Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday.) Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross. The Pope leads a procession at the Colosseum at 9pm. NO TICKETS required for this.
  • Holy Saturday (one day before Easter.) Pope Francis holds mass called "Easter Vigil" at 8:30pm in Saint Peter's Basilica.
  • Easter Sunday. Easter Mass at 10:15 in Saint Peter's Square (tickets required), followed by the Urbi et Orbi speech at noon (no tickets required), in which the Pope addresses the crowds.

Christmas Papal Masses

Following are the Papal Masses taking place over the Christmas holiday season. Tickets are required, and for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, they will be especially difficult to come by:

  • December 24: Christmas Midnight Mass (actually beginning at 9:30pm, Saint Peters Basilica)
  • December 31: First Vespers and Te Deum, Saint Peter's Basilica, 5pm
  • January 1: Holy Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Saint Peter's Basilica, 10am
  • January 6: Holy Mass for the Epiphany, Saint Peter's Basilica, 10am

For 2020, due to Covid-19 restrictions, tickets to the Christmas and New Year masses are very restricted and large gatherings in St Peter's Square are not allowed.

See the Pope in Rome - Other Holiday Events with Pope Francis

Urbi et Orbi

Twice a year, on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, the Pope gives a special blessing to the crowd called the Urbi et Orbi ("to the City and to the World.") You may also watch this speech live on Vatican TV, or listen on Vatican radio.

At noon, the Pope will come out of the from the central loggia of Saint Peter's Basilica for the blessing.

No tickets required for this.

Immacolata - the Pope paYs homage to Mary at the Spanish Steps

piazza mignanelli in romePiazza Mignanelli near the Spanish Steps, where the pope comes every December 8

On December 8, which is the Immacolata, or Immaculate Conception, the Pope visits Piazza Mignanelli, a plaza next to the bottom of the Spanish Steps. 

The Pope goes to pay homage to Mary, whose statue is at the very top of a pillar there. (According to the Vatican website, this is called "Act of Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the occasion of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.")

His scheduled time for this visit is 4pm, so if you want to get a spot, you should get there a lot earlier than that.

I did try this in December 2013. I managed to get close to the column but the closer I got, the more crushing the crowds were. No ticket is required of course, and there were just hordes of people. It's actually not such a big plaza when everyone is crowding in to see the Pope!

So I gave up and walked away, trying to get some air. I kept walking and eventually the crowd thinned out. I found myself by the side of the road, still lined with people but a lot fewer than where I’d just come from.

But there were still a lot of police and I discovered this is where Pope Francis’ car would pass when his ceremony was finished. I patient half-hour wait yielded my first close - albeit quick - encounter with Pope Francis as he drove by me in his car. In the front seat with his driver, not the back. As everyone says, he does seem so down to earth.

pope francis driving byPope Francis as he drove right past me on December 8

Good Friday before Easter - via Crucis at the Colosseum

On Good Friday before Easter, the Pope leads a procession of the via Crucis at the Colosseum. No ticket is required but expect large crowds.

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Getting Tickets to Papal Audiences and Papal Masses

You must have tickets to attend the Wednesday Papal Audiences, and any Papal masses. It's easy and it's free to book these on your own. If you want to see the Pope in Rome, try to plan ahead for this.

Keep in mind that if you want to book for any popular Papal mass, such as for Easter Sunday, Christmas Eve, certain canonizations of popular figures, etc., you should consider requesting tickets at least 6 months in advance, or, try to request these tickets through your priest/church at home.

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