Pope Francis on Tuesday prayed before the tombs of deceased popes in the crypt beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Francis visited the tombs after celebrating Mass for All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2 at a military cemetery in Rome.
The tombs of the popes are located in the grottoes of St. Peter’s Basilica surrounding the tomb of St. Peter, one of the 12 Apostles and the Catholic Church’s first pope.
Pope Francis also prayed before St. Peter’s tomb itself on Nov. 2. Some popes who have been declared saints in the Catholic Church have their tombs in the upper part of St. Peter’s Basilica.
All Souls’ Day, also called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, is dedicated to praying for those who have died.
The Vatican has this year granted a plenary indulgence to Catholics who visit a cemetery to pray for the dead on any day in the month of November.
A plenary indulgence remits all temporal punishment due to sin. It must always be accompanied by a full detachment from sin.
A Catholic who wishes to obtain a plenary indulgence must also fulfill the ordinary conditions of an indulgence, which are sacramental confession, reception of the Eucharist, and prayer for the pope’s intentions.
In a typical year, the Church only grants this plenary indulgence for the souls in Purgatory to those who pray in a cemetery on Nov. 1-8, the week of All Souls’ Day.
But in 2020, the Apostolic Penitentiary issued a decree that extended the availability of certain plenary indulgences amid concerns about avoiding large gatherings of people in churches or cemeteries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Vatican announced on Oct. 28 that this same decree would also apply in November 2021.
Each year, Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the faithful departed at a different cemetery in Rome or the wider area for the feast of All Souls.
This year, he offered Mass at the French Military Cemetery, where he walked past rows of graves, stopping every so often to pray and to give his blessing.
Pope Francis placed white flowers on some of the graves and paused at tombs to pray in silence before he offered Mass on the cemetery grounds.
In his homily, the pope said that as he walked past the tombs, he noticed one without a name. It said: “Unknown. Died for France, 1944.”
“In the heart of God is the name of all of us, but this is the tragedy of the war,” Pope Francis commented.
The pope said that the tombs should be a “message of peace,” which urge people to stop manufacturing the weapons of war.
“These tombs which speak, cry out … They cry out from within. They cry out: ‘Peace,’” he said.