By Hannah Brockhaus
As Rome and the Vatican prepare for an influx of millions of people for a special year focused on hope, one experienced jubilee attendee is offering her advice for a fruitful pilgrimage.
“A pilgrimage as massive as that of a jubilee year should be a wonderful, unique, spiritual experience,” Joan Lewis, author of “A Holy Year in Rome: The Complete Pilgrim’s Guide for the Jubilee of Mercy,” told CNA.
“Watching people from all over the world praying… it’s an experience of the universal Church. For me, it reinforces my faith.”
The Vatican and the city of Rome are expecting an estimated 35 million people to flock to the Eternal City for the 2025 Jubilee Year of Hope — the first ordinary jubilee since the Great Jubilee of 2000.
A jubilee is a special holy year of grace and pilgrimage in the Catholic Church. It typically takes place once every 25 years, though the pope can call for extraordinary jubilee years more often, such as in the case of the 2016 Year of Mercy or the 2013 Year of Faith.
A central part of any jubilee are the Holy Doors. These doors, found at St. Peter’s Basilica and Rome’s other major basilicas, are sealed from the inside and only opened during a jubilee year. In 2016, Catholic dioceses also had their own Holy Doors.
The opening of the Holy Door symbolizes the offering of an “extraordinary path” toward salvation for Catholics during a jubilee. Pilgrims who walk through a Holy Door can receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions.
Jubilees have biblical roots, as the Mosaic era established jubilee years to be held every 50 years for the freeing of slaves and forgiveness of debts as manifestations of God’s mercy. The practice was reestablished by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300.
Jubilees are planned years in advance, with the 2025 Year of Hope being no exception. The theme was announced in January 2022. Now, the city of Rome is preparing to launch a number of infrastructure projects to make the experience better for pilgrims.
The Vatican said an estimated 20.4 million people attended Year of Mercy events at the Vatican over the course of 2016.
Lewis, who participated in the Jubilees of 1983, 1987, 2000, and 2016, noted that if people can plan their visit in nonpeak times it could be helpful but to be prepared for throngs regardless.
“If they can choose ‘the road less traveled’ that will probably augment their appreciation,” she said, noting that the busiest times will probably be the summer, holidays, and the opening and closing of the Holy Door.
“Be prepared for crowds. Bring patience along with your comfiest walking shoes,” Lewis added.
For the 2025 Jubilee, Rome has allocated approximately $2.5 billion to go into 87 public works projects, though this may increase to $4.3 billion.
The city is planning to improve its public transport and public bathroom facilities, repave roads, build underground parking and pedestrian underpassages, and clean up the area around the central Termini train station.
For the Jubilee Year in 2000, Rome built a large parking garage for tour buses under the nearby Janiculum Hill. Lewis said they also worked hard to make the ancient city a little bit more accessible for people in wheelchairs by adding sidewalk ramps and ramps at church entrances.
“The Vatican does a lot of work with the city — anything that can make the trip easier for a pilgrim,” she said. The Vatican and Rome “want to help make the trip enjoyable.”
Sometime early next year the pope will publish the official bull declaring the Jubilee and establishing the date for the opening of the Holy Door, which will likely be in December 2024.
Registrations for the Jubilee will open in September, the Vatican said.
Lewis said much of the practical tips she would offer individuals or families hoping to come to Rome for the Jubilee would be similar to the typical advice for any tourist to the Eternal City.
A digital “pilgrim’s card,” created by the Vatican, will be a useful tool, facilitating access to the most important sites connected to the Holy Year. An additional “service card” will also be available for a small price and will offer additional discounts to museums, transportation, and other services.
The Vatican also recently published the full list of themed Jubilee celebrations that will happen throughout 2025, such as the jubilees of families, artists, and seminarians.
Lewis recommended that families traveling with young children make sure that part of every day there is something for them and pointed out that Rome has greenspaces, parks, and playgrounds, good for a picnic or letting kids run around.
She also said it is important to emphasize the “spiritual celebration of pilgrimage” and the “difference between a pilgrimage experience versus being a tourist.”