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Pope Francis becomes first pontiff to visit St. Peter's tomb

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Francis became the first pontiff to visit the ancient necropolis beneath the Vatican to visit the tomb of St. Peter. The site is where pagans and early Christians were buried, and has been restored after extensive archaeological excavations began in 1965.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The 45-minute "visit of devotion to the tomb of St Peter" was described highly emotional and private. Photographs and a video showing Francis walking through the streets of the city of the dead were later released by the Vatican.

Built over the location where early Christians would gather in secret during a time of persecution in ancient Rome, the faithful would pray at an unmarked tomb believed to be that of Peter, the apostle Jesus chose to lead his church. The Vatican at first said Francis would pray at Peter's tomb, but later said he prayed instead in the basilica.

Francis "paused in silent prayer, in profound and emotional meditation" in the Clementine Chapel in the vast basilica that is "the closest place (in the basilica) to the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles," a statement said.

During the tour, the pope "climbed up a bit, got closer to the place where the tomb of St. Peter lies, exactly under the central altar and the dome of the basilica," the Vatican said.

Francis walked down the entire main street of the ancient city of the dead, the statement said. The streets of the necropolis are similar to those of ancient Rome, only they are flanked by tombs instead of shops and apartments.

Francis walked to the necropolis entrance from the hotel on the Vatican grounds where he lives to take the tour. After paying homage at the tombs of several popes in another underground level known as the grottoes, including Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul I, Francis returned to his residence.

The underground excursion was a sharp departure from how popes in past years often spent the day after Easter, known in Italy as "little Easter." In the past, pontiffs would head to Castel Gandolfo, the Vatican palace in the Alban Hills, a short drive from Rome.

Many Italians spend "little Easter" by having a picnic lunch in the countryside or in city parks. Francis told Romans and tourists who gathered in St. Peter's Square at noon Monday to see him to "have a good lunch."

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