After a month-long summit of bishops in Rome that largely kept him in the center, the opening of November sees Pope Francis back at the peripheries. Friday, for All Soul’s Day, he’ll be the first pontiff to visit the Laurentino cemetery on Rome’s southern outskirts.
“Tomorrow afternoon I will go to the Laurentino cemetery of Rome,” Francis said after his Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on All Saints Day Nov. 1. “I invite you to accompany me with prayer on this day of reflection for those who preceded us in the sign of faith and now rest in the sleep of peace.”
The cemetery, one of eleven in the Italian capital, is located on the southern outskirts of Rome, but that’s not the only reason why the choice of this particular cemetery speaks to Francis’s message in what he has called today’s “throw-away culture.”
In January 2012, the cemetery opened its “Garden of Angels,” over 700 square yards dedicated to the burial of children who were never born - either because of miscarriages or due to medical procedures, including abortion. The garden is watched over by two large marble angels.
For those who closely watch this pontificate, it’s clear that Francis never makes these choices by accident, especially considering the strong words he generally uses concerning abortion and the rights of the unborn.
On Oct. 10, during his weekly general audience, Francis compared procuring an abortion with hiring a hit man.
“It’s not right to take out a human being, a small one, too, in order to fix a problem,” he said. “It’s like hiring a professional killer.”
In the past, the pope has spent All Souls Day at the monumental cemetery of the Verano, in the Roman city center, until 2016, when he visited the cemetery of Prima Porta. Last year he opted for a change of scenery when he went to Nettuno, where nearly 8,000 U.S. soldiers who died during World War II are buried.
At the time, Francis was focused on what he’s described as the 21st century’s “world war in pieces,” and in his homily, he asked God to bring a halt to the numerous conflicts and slaughters that plague the world.
His choice to visit the Laurentino cemetery might suggest the pope will take the opportunity during the Church’s annual feast commemorating all those who have died, and who are awaiting heaven, to speak once more on the Catholic perspective against abortion.
Francis will be welcomed by newly-created Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Vicar of the diocese of Rome and a close papal ally, as well as by the auxiliary bishop for the south of Rome, Paolo Lojudice, and the local chaplain, Father Claudio Palma.
Turnout at cemeteries on All Souls’ Day is still very high in Italy, despite centuries of secularization, and government officials are preparing for the large number of people who will be attending the papal event.
“The words and the blessing of Pope Francis will be a stimulus for us to constantly work for the preservation of the memory kept in these places,” said Lorenzo Bagnacani, President and CEO of Rome’s main public service Ama, in an interview with local media.
The Catholic celebration of All Saints Day on Nov. 1, which honors all those who have died and gone to heaven, was marked by Francis’s call to “sanctity or nothing!” during his Angelus on Thursday.
“This path of beatitudes, of sanctity, seems to lead to defeat,” Francis said, listing the many ways in which the virtues portrayed by the saints seems counter-intuitive in a world where power, deceit and wealth appear to offer the upper hand.
“But,” the pope added, the saints “have won, not the world. And they encourage us to choose their side, that of God who is Holy.”
“Let’s ask ourselves which side we are on: that of heaven or that of earth?” he asked.
Francis asked for the intercession of the Virgin Mary before faithful at the Vatican so that believers may follow the path of sainthood made of everyday choices in the home and in the family.
“It’s good for us to be provoked by the saints, who did not know half-measures here and from there ‘root’ for us so that we may choose God, humility, mildness, mercy, purity, so that we may be passionate about heaven rather than earth,” he said.
The pope will conclude this annual Catholic three-day reflection on death on Nov. 3, when he will preside over a Eucharist at the Vatican Basilica in honor of the bishops and cardinals who died during the course of the year.