Chatham House is one of the most important foreign affairs think tanks in the UK. On the 21st February its focus will on Pope Francis. Two weeks ago, the Foreign Office sponsored think tank Wilton Park took delegates to the Vatican to meet the pope and discuss violent religious extremism while last week the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, was in Rome to talk with Francis about modern slavery.

This engagement confirms the pope as one of the leading figures of the age. It will be five years on 13 March since the then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, following the shock resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Since then, Bergoglio, who on election took the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi, has become hugely popular. Even atheists declare: “I love this guy!” on social media.

Fellow church leaders, such as the Orthodox leader, ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, politicians and other public figures flock to meet him. The Chatham House event will explore the Roman Catholic church’s role in diplomacy, its relationship with the US, and the significance of the first post western pope, who has diluted the European centrism of the Vatican.

Yet in the Vatican itself, all is not well. Ever since his election in 2013, Francis’s efforts at reform have made him deeply unpopular with conservative Catholics, some in positions of influence within the Vatican itself. They have balked at his efforts to change the way the Vatican is run, including its bank, and to rethink the manner in which the church deals with failed marriages, including welcoming remarried divorcees to receive holy communion. Now the rumblings of discontent have spread to liberals who support Francis but are deeply upset by recent remarks he has made on child abuse.

It was quickly evident after his election that Francis was very different from Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in February 2013, following a series of financial scandals in the Vatican. He had more energy and enthusiasm for meeting people than his diffident Bavarian predecessor, and also responded, as John Paul II had done before him, to the issues of the age. But whereas the Polish John Paul focused on communism and the cold war, the Latin American pope, a child of economic migrants, has turned his attention to the plight of people uprooted from their homes, refugees, victims of trafficking and modern slavery. In 2016, in a defining gesture of his papacy, after a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, the entry point for thousands seeking asylum in Europe, he took home with him on his plane to Rome three families of Syrian Muslim refugees.

He is also deeply aware of the impact of climate change on the planet’s poorest regions and, in 2015, published his green encyclical, or teaching document, Laudato Si, which he subtitled On Care for Our Common Home, urging people to rethink their relationship with God’s creation. Conservative Catholics, especially in America, claimed he was telling SUV drivers that they were committing a sin. It is the document Francis seems most proud of, offering it as a gift to his visitors. Some, such as the Prince of Wales, appear deeply appreciative; others, such as President Donald Trump, far less so.

Francis Campbell, a former British ambassador to the Holy See and now vice chancellor of St Mary’s University said: “There is a lack of confidence about the future of society and Pope Francis is occupying a space that few others are. He is speaking to a constituency that is looking for a form of leadership”.

“The fact that people who are not interested in religion are interested in him is a reminder of the lack of global leaders. Who else is not retreating into nationalism or isolationism? Who else is reminding us of the big ethical issues?”

As a world leader, Francis certainly appears to have little in common with Trump. During the Obama administration, the US president and Vatican diplomats worked behind the scenes to bring Cuba and the US towards some kind of rapprochement after an icy stand-off lasting more than 50 years. But there appears to be no love lost between the pope and Trump. The pontiff expressed disquiet at Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and warned of the need for a two-state solution.

The relationship certainly matters, America has 70 million Catholics, a potential voting bloc for the president, but also a possible source of huge donations for the church.

Ross Douthat, a leading conservative Catholic commentator in the US, has said: “Francis has turned around the public narrative so that Catholicism is not an oppositional force locked in culture wars all the time. But his personalised style has blunted his ability to work effectively in the institution of the church. There is a crisis of papal authority.”

Francis has also proved provocative on the subject of Europe calling the continent a barren grandmother hinting that his attention is turning to the other regions of the world where the Catholic church is growing. When EU leaders met the pope as they marked the 60th anniversary of the treaty of Rome he warned them of the forces of populism and nations turning inward. With the European project owing much too Catholic thinkers such as Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and Catholic theological ideas of solidarity and subsidiarity, it’s clear that the Vatican which joined the euro backs the EU.

Sometimes the moral papal voice has not been heard when it is expected. There was dismay when Francis failed to speak out about the plight of the Rohingya peoples during a visit to Myanmar last year. Vatican watchers perceived a hesitance because Francis was wary of causing problems for the Catholic minority population there. For however much he operates on the world stage as a moral leader, his primary concern remains the Catholic church and grave problems remain within it.

His efforts to reform the church began well. The Vatican machine has been slimmed down with departments merged and the number of grand prelates in charge reduced. Moneyval, the Council of Europe agency that monitors money laundering laws says the Vatican Bank has been cleaned up. One head of a religious order in Rome told me recently that the checks on depositing and withdrawing large sums have got noticeably tougher.

But since the man that Francis put in charge of financial reform, Cardinal George Pell returned to his native Australia to face historical sex offence charges progress has stalled. Nobody has taken Pell’s place.

There are whispers in the Vatican loggias that the pope is a communist, a populist and not a proper Catholic. The opposition to him was most clearly felt during the synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 over allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion. Four cardinals later issued a dubia, or document of theological doubts an unprecedented challenge to papal authority.

The feminist theologian Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic studies at Roehampton University, said: “Pope Francis is up against poisonous forces in the Church. He has tried to be gently pastoral about gay people and divorce but he is going to have to be more robust and be as tough as his predecessors in dealing with his critics.”

But it is in the response to child abuse where things have gone most awry in this pontificate. The signs at first were good, Francis set up the pontifical commission for the protection of minors but its two members who were victims of abuse themselves, Peter Saunders and Marie Collins have since left both expressing frustration at the lack of progress. Despite promises of a special court being created to deal with bishops negligent in abuse cases and for it to be mandatory for bishops to report cases to civil authorities, there has been no progress.

Then came an astonishing outburst from Francis himself. During a visit to Chile in January when he had asked victims of abuse for forgiveness on what had in effect been called an apology tour because of the abuse crisis. But he then defended Juan Barros saying those who accused him of covering up for a paedophile priest were guilty of slander. This not only outraged victims but mystified them as a letter from a victim had been sent to Francis via Cardinal Sean O’Malley head of the pontifical commission and one of the pope’s most trusted supporters.

Collins has confirmed that it was she who handed the letter to O’Malley and that she is gravely concerned about the lack of progress by Pope Francis on countering child abuse. “I did have hope that Pope Francis would be the man to bring about change and his setting up of the commission for the protection of minors seemed to signal there was good reason for hope,” the former commission member said.

But Collins went on, Vatican officials had made a concerted effort to thwart his early reforms and take control of the independent commission. Now she is distressed by Francis’s comments about victims in Chile: “It is a sad situation and shows an inclination to believe his clerical colleagues over survivors.”

Even though Pope Francis did then attempt to salvage the situation by dispatching Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the church’s most respected investigators of abuse, to Chile, this Latin American saga has turned into one unholy mess, threatening the credibility that Francis has sought to restore to the papacy. On Thursday, the Vatican tried to defuse the situation, confirming that Francis regularly meets abuse victims.

When Francis had been in office for only two years, he suggested: “I have the sensation that my pontificate will be short. Four or five years.” Now, though, he seems to have no intention to quit. There is much work still to be done.

But in Rome, the talk in the trattorias is about the succession about who is going to be the next pope. The cardinals are likely to look at parts of the world where Catholicism is growing. Some suggest that the church will veer in another direction for the next leader and a conservative cardinal might be elected, such as the outspoken Robert Sarah from Guinea or maybe Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo. Asia is certainly one area of the world that Francis himself is focused on and is keen to repair relations with China where the government appoints its own “patriotic” bishops and the ones chosen by the pope run an underground church.

If he were to manage that under his watch Francis might well think it was time to move on. For the world and for ordinary Catholics this pope has certainly made an impact. He has above all tried to change the church’s tone, emphasising mercy and compassion, rather than rigid rules. But this way of thinking needs time to bed in, to become the norm. So after five years this pope cannot yet say mission accomplished.

Open letter calls to the Vatican to rethink China deal.

A group of mostly Hong Kong-based academics including lawyers and human rights activists has warned that regularizing seven illicitly ordained bishops in mainland China would cause Catholics in the country to “be plunged into confusion and pain, and schism would be created in the Church in China.” The open letter was addressed to the bishops’ conferences of the world, and said the signatories were “shocked and disappointed” about reports stating that the Vatican and China were on the brink of an agreement on appointing bishops in the country.

The proposed agreement would allow the communist regime to nominate bishops, subject to a Vatican veto. Part of the deal would be allowing seven bishops already appointed by the government and excommunicated by the Vatican to be regularized and recognized by the Holy See.

The open letter calls on the world’s bishops to appeal to the Vatican to “rethink the current agreement and stop making an irreversible and regrettable mistake.”

Two “underground” bishops have already been asked by the Vatican to step aside for their government appointed counterparts and on Sunday one of the bishops, Joseph Guo Xijin of Mindong in Fujian Province, said he would acquiesce to the request.

“Our consistent stand is to respect the deal made between the Vatican and the Chinese government,” Guo said before evening Mass, according to the New York Times. “Our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican the connection cannot be severed.” The bishop also expressed his view that in recent years the government has “loosened up” when it comes to religious affairs.

So far, 88-year-old Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou in southern Guangdong province has not agreed to step down.

The deal has been sharply criticized by the former Bishop of Hong Kong, 86-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has accused the Vatican of “selling out” the Church in China.

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association was established by the Communist government in 1957 to oversee Catholic churches independent of the Vatican. An underground Church loyal to the pope exists parallel to the state sanctioned entity.

State sanctioned bishops consecrated without Vatican approval are automatically excommunicated from the worldwide Catholic Church.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a landmark letter in which he said full reconciliation “cannot be accomplished overnight” but added that “for the Church to live underground is not a normal situation.” The letter said there was only one Catholic Church in China and encouraged unity in their profession of faith granting some validity to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and permission for Catholics to participate in the official Church.

Currently, the Catholic population in the country is estimated to be about 12 million, with about half attending government-approved churches, and the other half attending “underground” ones.

On occasion the two sides have mutually agreed on individual bishop appointments. However the current President Xi Jinping has made efforts to re-assert government control of religion in the country. Late last year, the Communist Party revised its “Regulations on Religious Affairs,” calling for greater “Sinicization” of Chinese Christians.

According to Zen the proposed deal between the Vatican and Xi’s government would “cage” the members of the underground Church.

“The Communist government just wants the Church to surrender because they want complete control, not only of the Catholic Church but all the religions,” the cardinal said last week. He also said he wasn’t completely against working with the regime. He proposed letting the Vatican nominate the bishops with the government holding veto power.

Zen served as Bishop of Hong Kong from 2002-2009. The former British colony has religious freedom as part of the agreement with Britain leading up to the transfer of the territory to China.

The open letter published Monday said the “moral integrity of the seven illicitly ordained bishops is questionable,” and added if they were to be recognized as “legitimate” then the faithful would be “plunged into confusion and pain.”

“We fully understand that the Holy See is eager to be able to evangelize in China more effectively. However, we are deeply worried that the deal would create damages that cannot be remedied,” the letter reads. “The Communist Party in China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has repeatedly destroyed crosses and churches, and the Patriotic Association maintains its heavy-handed control over the Church. Religious persecution has never stopped. Xi has also made it clear that the Party will strengthen its control over religions,” the letter continues. “So, there is no possibility that the Church can enjoy more freedom. In addition, the Communist Party has a long history of breaking promises,” it said.

The signatories said they are worried that the agreement would not only fail to guarantee the limited freedom desired by the Church, “but also damage the Church’s holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity, and deal a blow to the Church’s moral power.”

The letter acknowledges Pope Francis is “pained” by the suffering experienced by Christians in China but said the proposed agreement will not put an end to religious persecution, pointing to the new government regulations which “allows for stricter scrutiny over religions.” “We cannot see any possibility that the coming agreement can result in the Chinese government stopping its persecution of the Church and ceasing its violations of religious freedom,” according to the letter said.


The best planned gardens are those which offer interest all year round, whether in flowers, foliage or berries.Not sure what to plant when? Here’s our guide to give you colour in every season.


Early winter is a great time for planting bare-root roses and other dormant shrubs before the ground becomes too hard or waterlogged. They should give you plenty of colour in the warmer months. Meanwhile, winter is the peak season for brightly berried hollies, delicate-looking hellebores, shrubby honeysuckles, fragrant yellow evergreen mahonias and wintersweet, whose pale yellow flowers hang from bare stems from December to March and which gives the more popular witch hazel a run for its money. For scent, look no further than Viburnum x bodnantense and, if you’re after unusual berries, check out the purple fruits of Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’, which can last until December. In January, see the first of the bulbs emerge, including snowdrops, crocuses and early daffodils such as Narcissus ‘February Gold’. Unlike other spring-flowering bulbs, tulips can be delayed from planting until November and December, if the ground isn’t too hard or waterlogged. Winter pansies and violas which gave some colour in tubs and troughs in the autumn may sulk during the depths of winter, but they’ll spring back to life when the days become longer in spring. Late winter is also a great time to sow seed in a heated greenhouse or on a windowsill, such as tuberous begonias, busy Lizzies and sweet peas.


Beautiful summer-flowering bulbs such as dahlias, cannas and lilies can be planted in spring. Plant lilies in early spring before the bulbs dry out. Tender bulbs such as dahlias, cannas and begonias are not frost-hardy so start them off in pots indoors in the spring and don’t put them out until all danger of frost has passed. Most bulbs prefer a sunny position, or will do well in light shade. Spring is the time to enjoy the bulbs you planted in the autumn, whether it be masses of bright yellow daffodils, heavily-scented hyacinths, frilly tulips or lollypop alliums. Other spring-flowering beauties include dicentra (bleeding heart), whose ferny foliage covers fading snowdrops in spring and whose pink flowers provide a pretty display from mid-spring. Evergreen perennial wallflowers, crown imperials and aquilegia vulgaris are other colourful stars of spring, while hardy perennials and shrubs can also be planted at this time of year, as the ground becomes warmer and easier to work. Spring is also the time to plant colourful primulas, heathers and hybrid primroses to perk up your patio pots. If you can take pots under cover at night, you can plant up summer containers and hanging baskets in late spring. It’s also a perfect time for planting perennials including lupins, delphiniums, foxgloves and peonies, keep them well watered and wait for the summer colour to arrive.


Early summer is arguably the most colourful time in the garden, when you can plant up all manner of annuals - either grown from seed or available in garden centres - in your containers and troughs. As soon as all risk of frost has passed, pelargoniums, lobelia, stocks, petunias, verbena, fuchsias and begonias can go outside. If you have cover, you can give them a head start by planting up pots in spring, but only if you have somewhere to protect them. Summer perennials should be coming into flower – lupins, delphiniums, roses and climbers including large-flowered clematis are in their element and lavender flowers are producing their heady scent. Early summer also heralds the arrival of alliums, whose blue or white pom-pom flowers provide a focal point in the border. Don’t forget to include some late-summer flowers in your scheme, which will appear from August onwards. This includes deep orange helenium, bright yellow rudbeckia and crocosmia in shades varying from yellow to deep red. Lillies should be bursting open in mid-summer, while border phlox will only start flowering when summer is well under way. The white or pink flowers of the low-growing ice plant, Sedum spectabile, will be a magnet to bees and butterflies in the late summer border, while tall-growing princely dahlias look great in mixed borders for a sub-tropical look and blue hydrangeas provide late summer interest both in beds and large pots. July and August are not ideal planting times if you don’t want to be a slave to the watering can. You’re better off focusing on deadheading, watering and feeding plants which are already established.


If you want swathes of daffodils, crocus, alliums and snowdrops, autumn is the best time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Crocus and narcissi can be planted at any point until early December, tulips should be left until late autumn, while snowdrops and other small bulbs are best planted immediately after purchase. As a rule, plant bulbs at three times their depth below the surface of the soil or compost. If you have planted an area of flowering prairie, it should be approaching its pinnacle in September, while shrubs which were planted in spring including buddleia davidii, hydrangea, escallonia and Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’ offer further colour. Replace summer bedding as it comes to an end with plants for winter and spring, and plant winter bedding and spring bulbs in containers this season. Autumn is also a time when brilliant leaf colour comes into its own, whether you have stunning Japanese maples (acers) in pots or borders, katsura trees, which turn through every shade of yellow, pink, orange and red as the season progresses. Berries also appear in shades of orange, yellow, red and black, on stalwart shrubs such as pyracanthas, cotoneasters, sorbus and Rosa rugosa. Autumn is also a great time for planting container-grown trees, shrubs, climbers and roses, while the ground is still warm and workable, while in late autumn you can begin to plant bare-root plants, provided the leaves have fallen off and the plants are dormant.

We have an annual selection of flower seeds available from the VATICAN GARDENS RANGE please log onto http://vaticangardens.org/seeds/

They come in a presentation box of five different flower seeds and make an ideal gift to that special person for a lasting memory every year.


According to Vatican figures 2017 was another bad year when deaths of catholic church workers throughout the world was only to prevalent. Some 23 people died working for the church mostly as a result of attempted robberies throughout the world but esp[ecially in Nigeria and Mexico. For the past nine years the Americas have ben the worst continent for deaths of catholic workers. Perhaps just as telling was the fact that very few if any local authorities conducted investigations that resulted in any form of identifying the culprits. The murders are only the tip of the iceberg whereby many other catholic workers throughout the world are assaulted and threatened and catholic churches vandalised, looted and attacked by external sources.Over and above the catholic workers killed and attacked there are ongoing cases of nuns and priests kidnapped by extremist groups for ransom that are as yet unresolved. In the past sixteen years from 2000 to 2016 ther have been 424 pastoral care workers including five bishops who were killed.

This is the time of year again when we give praise to the lord and to the birth of the baby JESUS. Let us all rejoice and praise the lord for his coming to save the world. We shall pray for world peace and for the future of the human race in the coming weeks.

CONGRATULATIONS goes to Sofia Cortez from Uruguay whose pupils threw 15 of our floating prayer bottles from our web site into the South Atlantic Ocean on Christmas Eve 2015. They all contained an individual prayer from each child with their hopes and aspirations for the world and all addressed to Pope Francis. One finally arrived on the coast of Morocco near Casablanca in September 2017. We would like to thank Sofia and all her pupils for their efforts in trying to improve the world and that of its citizens. We cannot over emphasis the importance of communication between the peoples of the world. It is only by talking that we understand the other persons point of view, their concerns and the hardships they have to endure. It is our duty as human beings irrespective of religion to offer the hands of friendship across the oceans of the world and help wherever we can. Well done Sofia.


The Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world it is an enclave tucked away inside Rome with just 110 acres in area and fewer than 1,000 residents. But it draws more than six million visitors each year to the monumental St. Peter’s Square the magnificent Vatican museums and at its heart one of the holiest sites in the world, Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The site of St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square is all centered around the tomb of St. Peter which is found about145 meters under that golden globe on the top of Michelangelo’s dome.

Built on the site where Peter, the apostle and first pope was crucified upside down and martyred along with other early Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero in 64 A.D.

The Basilica is a marvel. It was started in 1506 and is the work of 12 architects and a multitde of Renaissance masters serving 20 popes over the course of 120 years.

The dome of St. Peter’s is the crowning glory in the life of artist Michelangelo Buonarotti. Towards the front of the basilica a much younger Michelangelo’s work sculpted from a single piece of marble, the Pietà. Pietà is the Latin and the Italian word for compassion, for mercy, for tenderness, a word particularly poignant for our present pope.

Only a few years later Michelangelo would paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where cardinals meet to elect a new pope and just one of the treasures of the Vatican museums. The decision in 1780 to open those museums to the general public regardless of religion was revolutionary.

Today the Vatican Museums have a great history of openness and comprise of one of the largest collections in the world, three and a half miles of museum and the first of its magnitude to have a woman as director, Barbara Jatta.


The Vatican Museums are an enormous complex composed of more than two dozen distinct collections, any of which could be a self-sustaining gallery in themselves. You do need to plan your time in the museums.
The Vatican Museums are of course where you will find the Sistine Chapel, one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. Additionally, the Vatican Museums house many priceless works of art including the “Raphael Rooms”, and many galleries of sculpture, tapestries and frescos.
For most first time visitors, the climax of the visit is of course the famous Sistine Chapel.
You will know immediately when you have reached the Sistine Chapel, because not only everyone is in the room standing with his eyes turned toward the ceiling, but there is an amazing hush that descends as you enter.

Although the walls of the Sistine Chapel are covered with paintings by a number of Renaissance masters, including Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, they become secondary in the company of Michelangelo's extraordinary fresco covering the great vaulted ceiling.

Vatican Museum Ticketing, Opening Hours & Time of Visit
The Vatican Museum opens Monday to Saturday. The Ticket Office is open from 9 am to 4 pm. The Museums open at 10 a.m. and close at 6 pm.

The admission ticket permits the tourist to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and is valid for the day of issue.

For art lovers: don’t even think to come out in less than 4-5 hours.
If you are a time poor tourist, whose only clear target is to see the Sistine Chapel then about 2 hours might be appropriate.
Start with the Cortile della Pigna (Pinecone Courtyard) and having the huge pinecone in front of you lead to your right for the Pio Clementino. Peak inside, walk a bit and step back to the Courtyard to take the Simonetti Staircase on your right.
Stop on top of the first flight to see some of the antiquities. Walk all the way down to the Sistine Chapel (Galleries of Candelabra, Tapestries & Maps).
At the end of the Gallery of the Maps go straight, take the modern staircase to the Sistine Chapel.
Vatican Museum Queues and Fast Track Tickets
The queues for entrance to the Vatican Museums are legendary. Around 9 a.m. wave after wave of coaches are depositing coach loads to the end of the queue and early, mid-morning is probably the worst time of day to start queuing for admission. At this time it is not unusual for waiting times of over an hour.
Mondays also gets more crowds after the museums are effectively closed the day before.

At this time there is a whole army of touts selling to the queue the attraction of a guided tour that will allow you to by-pass the queue ahead.

With a bit of planning ahead you too can avoid the queues by paying for a fast track ticket or booking a tour that includes fast track, skip the queue entry to the Vatican Museums.

Audio Guides, Tours & Facilities

You can get the traditional audio guides for a fee on entering the Vatican Museum at the information desk. There are over 400 audio stops available throughout the Vatican Museums. The audio guides are available in 10 languages (Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Portuguese).

There are two hour English tours that you can book online at the Vatican Museums web site.
The reservation allows individual visitors to be part of a Vatican Group Tour conducted by an official Vatican Tour Guide. The tour takes the visitor through the most significant cultural and religious areas of the Vatican Museums.
Vatican Cloakroom
The cloakroom will accept from the visitors their bags and personal belongings, including food

It is obligatory to deposit in the cloakroom suitcases, backpacks and containers with dimensions larger than cm 40 x 35 x 15. or any articles that 'stick out'.

Food and Drink
A restaurant with a self-service, pizzeria and coffee bar is available.
Do's & Don'ts Visiting The Vatican Museum
No shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts. This applies to both men and women. Even if you get through security, you will be turned away by the attendants at the door.
Pushchair's are permitted in the Museums.
It is forbidden to use flashlight photography inside the Museums and no photography at all in the Sistine Chapel.
It is forbidden to touch works of art.
Any item that could conceivably be used to damage works of art like scissors, pointed umbrellas etc must be deposited in the cloakroom. Alcohol must also be deposited in the cloakroom.
Vatican Museum Fast Track Tickets With Optional Tour or Early VIP Access
This facility provides fast track access through a reserved door into the Vatican Museums, allowing you to skip all the lines.
Meet your host in Vatican City or outside the museum entrance and head to a reserved entrance that guarantees you the fastest skip-the-line access to the Vatican Museums.
Vatican Museums & St Peter’s Basilica Combined Tour With Fast Track Entry Tickets
Days Of Operation: Monday to Saturday
Your knowledgeable guide will escort you into the Vatican Museums to explore the world's most extensive collection of art.
Highlights of the museums are Michelangelo's famous Creation of Adam fresco in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael's Rooms.

After taking in the Vatican Museums, you will walk over to St Peter's Basilica for a fascinating finish to your group guided walking tour stopping to admire magnificent St Peter's Square.

What is “the Vatican” and how does it work?

Most Catholics are partially ignorant about what “the Vatican” is and how it works. The Vatican City State is a sovereign nation but it is also the collection of dicasteries that oversee legal cases, liturgy, money, abuse, doctrine, religious orders, appointment of bishops and basically all the newsworthy and controversial elements of Catholicism.

Over the last couple years I’ve been able to spend time in Rome and even some time with priests, bishops, and cardinals working within the Vatican. What was once a knotted mystery has become more clear to me and I wanted to share a basic outline so that you can also better understand how the Vatican works:

Understanding the Roman Curia as Dicasteries:

“The Vatican” is literally the geographic location of Saint Peter’s burial at the foot of the “Vatican Hill” outside the ancient boundaries of the city of Rome But a more accurate term for what most people mean by “the Vatican” is the “Roman Curia,” which is a collection of “dicasteries” or departments working for and under the Pope.

The word dicastery comes from the Greek word δικαστήριον meaning “place of justice.”

The Church is not a nation, but to use an analogy, you might think of the heads of each “dicasteries” as the “cabinent” of the United States President. I know, I know. It breaks down. You don’t need to leave a comment to me about how the Pope is not like a President. I’m only making an analogy.

So the Pope appoints leaders or prefects (usually cardinals) to each of the dicasteries to aid His Holiness in the governance of the Church:

List of the Vatican Dicasteries:

Here are the Vatican dicasteries organized into their six various species:


The Secretariat of State (most powerful dicastery – headed by Cardinal Secretary of State)

The Secretariat for the Economy (created by Pope Francis to oversee financials)

The Secretariat for Communications (Vatican Radio, Osservatore Romano, Vatican Press, etc.)


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (one might say this is the second most powerful dicastery, after the Secretary of State)

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches

The Congregation for Divine Worship (liturgy and sacraments)

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the process of canonizing saints)

The Congregation for Bishops (researches and selects bishops for dioceses)

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly named Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith)

The Congregation for the Clergy (priests, deacons, seminaries)

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (religious life)

The Congregation for Catholic Education (Catholic universities, but not seminaries)


The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life (created by Pope Francis)

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (created by Pope Francis)

Legal Tribunals (operate like courts):

The Apostolic Penitentiary (excommunications, dispensations, indulgences)

The Tribunal of the Roman Rota (highest appellate tribunal; usually handles contested marriage annulments)

The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Supreme court seeing appealed cases from Roman Rota and conflicts between Congregations)

Pontifical Councils

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (handles ecumenical relations with non-Catholic Christians, and notably Jewish relations)

The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (interpreting canon law)

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (handles relations with non-Christian religions)

The Pontifical Council for Culture

The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization (for re-evangelizing the West)

Offices of the Holy See:

The Apostolic Camera (the Papal Treasury)

The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (modified by Pope Francis; see Secretariat for the Economy above; oversees property of the Holy See)

The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See (oversees finances)

*Note: The tendency of Pope Francis has been to close and collapse “Pontifical Councils” into what he calls “Dicasteries.” Pope Francis has closed down four “Pontifical Councils” and erected two new “Dicasteries” listed above.

My opinion is that a reduction in the number of dicasteries is a positive reform of the Church.

Each dicastery works at the pleasure of the Holy Father. The Pope appoints all offices and he can close and open new dicasteries according to his pleasure.

Other Departments in the Vatican

You also have other departments in the Vatican that are not technically dicasteries such as:

The Pontifical Swiss Guard

Approximately 130 soldiers that where colorful uniforms while protecting the Pope and providing border security for Vatican City and

the Swiss Guard makes use of the Glock 19 pistol and Heckler & Koch MP7 .

The Vatican Bank (Official Name is: Institute for the Works of Religion

The Pontifical Commissions (3 of which fall under the CDF):

Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church (art, books, archives)

Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

Oversees 1962 Extraordinary Form of Mass.

Answers to and is located within CDF.

Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology

Pontifical Biblical Commission (publishes articles on biblical studies; answers to CDF)

International Theological Commission (publishes theological articles; answers to CDF)

Pontifical Commission for Latin America (answers to Congregation for Bishops)

Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (instituted by Pope Francis in 2014; headed by Cardinal O’Malley of Boston)

Temporary or Interdicasterial Commissions (temporary commissions for tasks, such as producing a Catechism of the Catholic Church)

How to Be Better Educated about the Catholic Church:

As the Church faces new issues, new dicasteries are created and some are closed. There is nothing of divine right with the Roman Curia. The Pope can open and close dicasteries to help him govern the Church. Technically speaking, he could close all the offices.

It’s worth following the current issues in the Catholic Church and having an understanding of how these issues flow into and out of the “Vatican” through the various dicasteries.

It’s also worth printing out on a piece of paper the dicasteries of the Catholic Church.

Print them out and place them in your Bible so that you can pray for their leaders and for their work. It’s worth following which Cardinals head which dicasteries.

Here are the current leaders/prefects of some of the important dicasteries:

The Secretariat of State: Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin

The Secretariat for the Economy: Australian Cardinal George Pell

The Secretariat for Communications: Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

The Congregation for Divine Worship: Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints: Italian Cardinal Angelo Amato

The Congregation for Bishops: Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples: Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni

The Congregation for the Clergy: Italian Cardinal Beniamino Stella

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life: Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz

The Congregation for Catholic Education: Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi

The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life: American Cardinal Kevin Farrell

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development: Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson

All the Cardinals that lead dicasteries are usually seen as papabile – unspoken candidates for the next papacy.

Holy Apostles, pray for the Cardinals.


The Vatican City and Gardens is one of the most sacred places in Christendom. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre is St Peter's Basilica with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and the world renowned gardens. The basilica which was erected over the tomb of St Peter the Apostle, is the largest religious building in the world and the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderno.

VISITS TO THE VATICAN GARDENS:The Vatican Gardens can be visited only through guided tours organized by the Guided Tours Office of the Vatican Museums. Tours depart from the Vatican Museums. Entrance to the Gardens is denied to persons not properly dressed. For information: telephone +39.06.69884676 (individuals) or +39.06.69883145 (groups). Bookings can be arranged by faxing +39.06.69885100

VISITS TO THE VATICAN MUSEUMS: The Vatican Museums are open weekdays from 10:00 to 13:45 during November - February (except during the Christmas period when they are open from 8:45 to 16:45). During March - October the Museums are open Monday - Friday from 10:00 to 16:45 and Saturdays from 10:00 to 14:45. On the last Sunday of each month the Museums can be visited free of admission charge from 9:00 to 13:45. Entrance to the Museums is not possible from 75 minutes before closing time. For information: telephone +39.06.69883860 fax +39.06.69885433

PAPAL AUDIENCES: A ticket - always free of charge - is required for attending the General Audience on Wednesday mornings or other papal ceremonies. They are issued by the Prefecture of the Papal Household reached by way of the Bronze Door. The office is open Mondays from 9:00 to 13:00 and Tuesdays from 9:00 to 18:00. To request a ticket telephone +39.06.69883114 – +39.06.69884631; or fax +39.06.69885863.

ST. PETER’S BASILICA. The Basilica is open every day from 7.00 to 19.00, April to September and from 7.00 to 18.00, October to March. To preserve the sacred character of the church, groups consisting of more than five members and accompanied by a guide and are kindly requested to use "audio-guides" which can be rented at the entrance to the Basilica. Proper dress is required for admission to the Basilica.

HISTORICAL AND ARTISTIC MUSEUM (Treasury). The Treasury is open from 9.00 to 18:15, April to September and from 9.00 to 17.15, October to March. The entrance is from inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

VISIT TO THE DOME. Visits to the dome of St. Peter’s are possible every day from 8.00 to 18.00, April to September and from 8.00 to 17.00, October to March. The entrance is at the portico of the Basilica. There are 320 steps to the top of the dome and it is an incredibly wonderful experience but also breathtaking! Anyone with heart ailments, breathing problems or anything else that might be a serious impediment to scaling that height is forewarned before taking even one step. You can’t go a quarter of the way, for example, and decide it is too much and turn around. It is all or nothing! And the staircase is the width of only a single person..

VATICAN GROTTOES. The Vatican Grottoes are open every day from 7.00 to 18.00, April to September and from 7.00 to 17.00, October to March. The entrance is at the transept of St. Peter’s Basilica.

VISIT TO THE TOMB OF ST. PETER AND THE PRE-CONSTANTINIAN NECROPOLIS. For visits to the tomb of St. Peter and the necropolis please contact the Ufficio Scavi (excavations office): tel. + 39.06 69 88 53 18; fax + 39.06 698 73017; e-mail: scavi@fsp.va . The office is open from 9.00 to 17.00, Monday to Friday and reached by way of the Arch of the Bells.