When the bells at St. Peter’s Basilica chimed nine o’clock on Saturday evening, hundreds of Catholics joined a candlelight rosary procession, praying the rosary in several languages as a steam of candles formed a lighted ribbon around the edges St. Peter’s Square.
The Oct. 21 procession was the third to be held this month, as the Vatican hosts more than 300 bishops, priests, religious, and lay people from around the world, who have been invited to participate in the month-long synod of bishops on the topic of synodality.
A schola choir stood on the steps of the basilica to sing simple chants between the decades of the rosary, which was led by the retired Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, a long-time Vatican official.
Hundreds of lay people made up the procession, along with priests, seminarians, and religious sisters. Cardinals and bishops processed along with them, wearing ordinary clerical clothing, and walking with the crowd.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston processed alongside other Catholics, holding aloft a white candle adorned with a red plastic cup to catch dripping wax.
The cardinal told The Pillar he had come to each of the rosary processions held this month at the Vatican. He said they were “encouraging,” and “very beautiful.”
Lawrence, a young pilgrim from Croatia, told The Pillar that he had participated in the rosary procession for a simple reason: “We’re Catholics, so why not?”
Noting the balmy temperatures, and a warm breeze across the square, he told The Pillar, “This is perfect. Really. Just perfect.”
Asked what he prayed for, he pointed to the young woman walking next to him, fingering her rosary beads.
“I pray for the two of us,” he said.
Asked if they were married, Lawrence grinned.
“Not yet. But we’ll see.”
Fr. Tijo, a Syro-Malabar priest from the Indian Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, is a student of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Regina Apsostolorum University in Rome.
The priest declined to give his last name, saying with a laugh that spelling it would be “too complicated.”
Fr. Tijo said he had come to the rosary with other priest-students, because “we are praying for peace in all of the world.”
“This is a very cool experience so that we are praying for peace, and that is so important right now.”
“The rosary is a prayer that helps us grow closer to Jesus through Mary. Plus this place is at the center of our faith. We have our apostles here, St. Peter here, the pope here — so for us to be here, we are blessed to be here. It is very nice.”
Jessica, a pilgrim from Germany, told The Pillar that the rosary had been a powerful experience for her — even though she had “hoped so much” that Pope Francis would be present at the procession.
But Jessica said the procession was an experience of grace, even without the pope’s presence.
“The feeling… to catch this feeling … how it feels with all the people here in this amazing place… was holy. It was amazing. The being-together was just amazing,” Jessica said, adding that she was praying for her family and friends, and “for no war, and for freedom.”
Yanna, another pilgrim walking with the rosary procession, told The Pillar that she had come to the rosary even though she is an Orthodox Christian, not a Catholic. Yanna is Ukrainian, from Kyiv, but said she had been living in Warsaw, Poland since Russia’s invasion of her country in February 2022.
Holding a white candle, Yanna said she had happened upon the rosary procession as she walked across St. Peter’s Square.
The procession’s beauty convinced her to stay, she said.
“I was in the Vatican Museum, and it closed an hour ago, so when I walked along I came upon this … event… and it just looks beautiful.”
“And I like how the Catholic religion unites people, and so now I pray for peace in my country,” she said.
Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle is a delegate to the synod on synodality, and the archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana.
He came to the rosary procession, he said, because “I believe in the holy rosary myself. I have always prayed it every day, at least twice — once in the morning and once in the evening,” the archbishop said.
“That’s a contract I made with the Blessed Virgin Mary somewhere in the year 1975” — the year Palmer-Buckle was ordained a deacon.
“I made a contract with the Blessed Virgin Mary that if she would stand by me, I would try to be a good priest. And if you make the rosary your lifeline to God — because Jesus gave us his mother — and when I pray the rosary, I don’t need to ask anything [specific] of the Lord. I just tell him — ‘you know what I need. Give it me.’”
Palmer-Buckle said that he was surprised to be moved by the rosary procession at the Vatican.
“I was very touched, and this gives me hope that the world will be saved.”
The archbishop said that he was moved to pray for the delegates of the synod as he carried a candle through the square.
“In this first phase, we are listening to each other. And hearing from each other the worries, the challenges, the difficulties, everywhere in the world — I believe that we will go back home with this knowledge and pray for each other better.”
“Maybe then we can see what kind of healing we need in the Church.”
Commenting on the synod, the archbishop said that he hopes participants will take their own perspectives to prayer, and consider carefully the issues they raise.
“We live now in a society where — like the light on the wall, you press the button, and expect the light. And I think many of us lack the patience we need to be able to listen [to God] and see whether what we are asking for is really the answer to what we need.”
“People want the want quickly. They want it now.”
“I don’t think we must change the Church to fit us. We must rather fit ourselves to Jesus Christ and what he wants of us, through the help of the Church.”