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Pope declares 2025 Holy Year

May 10, 2024

The event happens every quarter century and is expected to attract over 30 million pilgrims. But the Italian capital's infrastructure is in a poor state, leading many to ask if it can cope with the influx.

Pope Francis praying before the reading of a papal bull on May 9, 2024
Pope Francis declared that the theme of the 2025 Holy Year will be 'Hope'Image: Vatican Media/Catholic Press/picture alliance

Pope Francis on Thursday used the Feast of Ascension to preside over the reading of a papal bull at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, declaring 2025 a Holy Year for Catholics around the world.

The event, which happens every 25 years, will begin on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2024; and continue through Epiphany, on January 6, 2026.

What the pope said

In the official edict, Francis proclaimed that the theme of the celebration would be "hope," and called on wealthy nations to forgive debts owed them by poorer ones, suggesting they, "acknowledge the gravity of so many of their past decisions and determine to forgive the debts of countries that will never be able to pay them."

He also pointed to the, "ecological debt connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time."

A detail of leaden papal seals (bullae) and copies of the edict read on Thursday, May 9, 2024
A papal bull is an official edict from the Holy See, the name 'bulla' referring to the lead seal that these bearImage: Vatican Media/Catholic Press/picture alliance

"Hope," said the pontiff during a vigil after the official reading, "is needed by God's creation — gravely damaged and disfigured by human selfishness. Hope is needed by those peoples and nations who look to the future with anxiety and fear."

The tradition of the Holy Year, which was begun by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, begins with the pope throwing open the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica and inviting pilgrims to visit the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. The Jubilee involves indulgences for the forgiveness of sins and requires pilgrims to visit four of the city's major cathedrals (St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls).

Though Francis declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2016, the last major Holy Year, the Great Jubilee, was held in 2000, in which Pope John Paul II led the Roman Catholic Church into the third millennium.

Pope Francis during the reading of the papal bull declaring 2025 a Holy Year, to the right, the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica
The Holy Year will begin with the pope throwing open the Holy Door of St. Peter's BasilicaImage: Vatican Media/Catholic Press/picture alliance

Rome in need of a miracle

Nearly 25 million pilgrims attended the 2000 Jubilee. Organizers expect that number to be between 30 and 32 million this time.

Although the massive volume of so many additional tourists is a boon for the Church and the city, many are voicing concern over whether they can all be accommodated by Rome's overwhelmed and outdated infrastructure.

Notoriously congested, the city is currently one enormous 24-hour construction site — with major infrastructure projects around St. Peter's but also along the Tiber River, central boulevards and squares — all bringing traffic to a standstill.

View of hundreds of cars on a relatively narrow street in Rome
Rome residents, already used to traffic congestion, face round-the-clock construction until Christmas at least Image: Reinhard Kungel/picture alliance

Rome stands to receive some €4 billion ($4.3 billion) in public funds (€1.3 billion in special Jubilee funds and €3 billion in public and other EU post-pandemic funds) to complete works aimed at modernizing roads, public transport, subway and telecommunications systems.

All of these projects, especially those involving underground work, are made extremely difficult by virtue of the need to protect the city's rich archeological heritage.

Currently, only two of the city's 231 projects have been completed, yet Mayor Roberto Gualtieri is confident that "essential projects" can be finished before pilgrims begin arriving. Gualtieri said the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi in 2022 had hampered their start but added, "We have recovered a lot from the initial delay." 

"In a beautiful city, you live better," said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who has been tasked by Pope Francis with coordinating Vatican Holy Year planning.

 "Rome will become an even more beautiful city, because it will be ever more at the service of its people, pilgrims and tourists who will come," Fisichella said.

Italy: Conductors of chaos

js/kb (AFP, AP)