CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY
My husband and I just returned from our babymoon/honeymoon part two, in which we traveled to Rome and several locations in Northern Italy. It was a beautiful trip, but by far the highlight was going to the papal audience on Wednesday, June 13, and being blessed by Pope Francis as part of the “Sposi Novelli” (newlywed) blessing. Our baby in utero got a special blessing as well! When I posted one of our photos on Instagram, I got lots of questions about how couples can go about planning their own newlywed blessing, so I thought I’d share some of what I learned from our experience.
Order your tickets in advance.
All papal audience tickets are free, but due to the number of newlyweds who want to attend each week, you must request tickets from the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican (contact your local diocesan office for information if you do not live in the US). It’s as simple as emailing the office a few months ahead of your visit, asking for Sposi Novelli tickets for the Wednesday audience you want to attend, and picking the tickets up between 3-6 PM on the evening before the audience. The office is near the Trevi Fountain and you can find directions to it on their website.
Be aware of the rules and restrictions.
According to the BIshops’ Office, couples are eligible for the Sposi Novelli blessing if they’ve been married for two months or less*, and must bring their marriage certificate, signed by a priest or deacon, with them to the audience.
*In the interest of full disclosure, Kristian and I did not know this rule and had almost been married six months at the time of our Sposi Novelli blessing (we planned on going much earlier, but first trimester and international travel do not mix well). As I said before, our baby got blessed too as I was visibly pregnant, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone. If you want to get your marriage blessed but can’t go to Rome within two months of your wedding, it may still be possible, but it’s a good idea to check with the Bishops’ Office before you book your airline tickets.
Plan your wardrobe.
For the Sposi Novelli blessing, couples are expected to come in “wedding attire”, which broadly interpreted means men in suits and women in white dresses. At our audience, there were women fully decked out in their wedding dresses and grooms in tuxes, but that isn’t required. And if you go to Rome in the summer, you may want to forego the wedding dress simply due to the intense heat in St. Peter’s Square.
A note about dress code: There’s no specific dress code to get into St. Peter’s Square, where the audience is held, but if you want to go into the Basilica afterward, you’ll need to have your shoulders and knees covered.
Get there early.
The Bishops’ Office recommends that you get to the audience as early as possible (the Square officially opens at 6:30 AM) even though the audience doesn’t begin until 10 AM. Kristian and I weren’t able to make it until about 8:30 due to jet lag, but even then almost all of the special seats for the Sposi Novelli were taken. It’s worth it to get there as early as possible, especially since there’s nothing quite like an almost-empty St. Peter’s Square in the early morning light. Just bring snacks, a water bottle, and some reading/prayer material with you to pass the time.
Note: The Basilica does not open until a couple of hours after the audience concludes, so you won’t be able to go to Mass beforehand.
Pay attention to the weather.
I’ve been to Rome during every season except Fall (which I hear is gorgeous), and as much as I love the Eternal City, I must say that summer (mid-June through August) is a tough time to visit. The heat can be oppressive and there’s little relief from trees or ubiquitous A/C. But if summer is your only option, there are a few things you can do to beat the heat at the Sposi Novelli blessing:
-Don’t wear your wedding dress unless it’s light, airy, and breathable. Consider purchasing a white dress that will allow you to look bridal without overheating.
-Advise your husband to wear a lightweight summer suit.
-Bring an umbrella or parasol (I’m so thankful that the Italian couple sitting next to us let me huddle under theirs).
-Bring a LARGE bottle of water and refill it while you’re waiting in one of the natural fountains in the Square.
-Bring something to fan yourself with. Trust me.
Note: If you are planning a winter or spring visit to the Vatican, an umbrella is also a good idea as it tends to rain more often during those seasons.
Bring any religious articles you'd like blessed by the Pope.
At the end of the audience, the Holy Father will do a general blessing of any and all religious articles that you’ve brought with you. I wish I had remembered to bring the rosary that was wrapped around my bouquet!
Be aware that you may not get a cool photo with Pope Francis.
Depending on the time of year, the number of couples sitting in the Sposi Novelli section varies quite a bit. Couples from all over the world (especially Italy and other countries in Europe) come for the newlywed blessing. You’re more likely to get facetime with the Holy Father if you do not go during the summer. If you do go during the summer, like Kristian and I did, be prepared for the possibility that you may only get a general greeting from the Pope. We were able to get to the front of the line because I'm pregnant (pregnant women, I learned, are treated like royalty in Rome), but that was an unexpected blessing as there were over 100 newly married couples in attendance that day! My brother and sister-in-law, who went in May 2016, were part of a much smaller group in which everyone got a personal greeting from the Pope.
Note: if you do get photos with Pope Francis, you’ll have an opportunity that afternoon to peruse them, choose the ones you like, and have them printed out for you for a small fee.
What if you can't make it to a papal audience for a special newlywed blessing? Are your dreams of papal marriage blessings dead? Not at all! You always have the option of requesting a Papal blessing for your marriage directly from the Vatican, which is printed on parchment and sent to your home.
I hope this has been a helpful guide for planning a Sposi Novelli trip to Rome. If you're engaged and planning on honeymooning in Rome or a newlywed who recently made the trek, we'd love to hear about your experience in the comments!