Easter attracts pilgrims, tourists to Rome
Catholic tradition coupled with a desire to see Pope Benedict XVI in the flesh drew thousands of Christian pilgrims and tourists to the Italian capital Rome for Easter celebrations this weekend.
For a week in April each year, Easter marks the Christian belief that Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead just more than 2,000 years ago.
Rome is considered the world’s Catholic headquarters. It is where Pope Benedict, head of this Christian denomination, is seated at the decision-making Vatican City.
Pope Benedict started this weekend’s religious rituals with Good Friday evening prayers at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican City.
The 84-year-old German then proceeded to ancient Rome’s Colosseum to participate in the ‘Via Crucis’ or ‘Way of the Cross’ procession which mimics the 14 steps before – and including – the crucifixion.
Pope Benedict is expected to deliver his Easter Mass message at a public gathering today (SUNDAY) at noon in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Christian pilgrims gathered outside the Colosseum to view the performance of the 12 steps broadcast on large screens on Friday night. They held candles, read holy texts and sang traditional hymns. Vendors sold tourist memorabilia amidst the crowds.
Unlike the early Christians, the pilgrims were not thrown to lions inside the Colosseum built by their Roman Empire tormentors. They gathered for various other reasons.
Sister Sehliselo Khumalo, a nun from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, said that she “came here to meet the Pope”. She joined nuns from countries including Mexico and Italy.
“It is the first time that I am here to pray with the Pope. I have been a nun since 1995 and I feel greater faith when I am in Rome,” said Khumalo.
“We have faith in Africa but this is the core of the (Catholic) church. It is spiritual and there is dedication in the Catholic faith where it started in Europe.”
Khumalo made her way to the Colosseum hours before Pope Benedict. She recited prayers with other nuns while they waited for the ‘Way of the Cross’ to start at 9pm.
Ksenia Shaw, a student from Pittsburg, in the United States, held candles under the full moon with her father.
Shaw and her parents travelled to Rome even though they “don’t have a specific church”. She explained that her mother was Catholic and her father Protestant.
“I have already seen the Pope up close. It was a cool experience to see someone famous. I came here out of curiosity. It’s beautiful,” said Shaw.
She was also “surprised to see that all these people came here to see the Pope”.
“I think that if there was no Pope here then a lot of people would not be here. My grandmother wanted to see the Pope as well. She’s in America though.”
Grace Eleperia from Manila, in the Philippines, travelled to Rome with 22 other Catholic pilgrims to “be with the Pope for the Easter celebration”.
“The Pope is the Christ on earth. He represents Christ. To see him is reaffirmation of my faith. This celebration is not complete without him,” said Eleperia.
“It is a bonus to celebrate Easter with the Pope in Rome. There are many from the Philippines who are here. Catholicism is the main religion in our country.”
Etienne Lahaille, from Angers in France, meanwhile said that he travelled to Rome with his family as he wanted to “learn about the church”. Before heading to the Colosseum he attended an Easter gathering of 60 French expatriates in Rome.
“I am with my father, mother and sister for this holy week. Rome is the heart of the Catholic Church. We all come here because we want to be with the Pope,” said Lahaille.
Roman citizen Paolo Cecchini said that he wished only that “people are here for spiritual reasons too”.
“Spirituality is an individual experience. We know that there are a lot of tourists and some people are here just to see the Pope. But it is more important than that for Catholics to be here,” he said.