Most of the population is catholic. Rome is the very heart of Christianity, where the Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica, the largest Catholic church in the world, are located. Art and religion are so closely linked in Italy that it is practically impossible to deal separately with the two subjects. The country is literally crowded with sanctuaries, shrines and other places of worship: Assisi in Umbria (St. Francis), Pompeii near Naples, Loreto in the Marches on the Adriatic coast, St. Rosalia near Palermo, St. Anthony of Padua, Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo near Foggia are the best known.
There are important Jewish (36,300), orthodox protestants (100,000), Waldensian and Muslims communities. The infuence of the Catholic Church is very strong in the social, political, economic and cultural life of the Country, but from some decades we point out a greater laicization of the civil society. The catholic religion is not the established religion any more and its teaching is not more compulsory in the state schools just after the Concordat signed by the Italian State and by the Vatican in 1984
General audiences with His Holiness are usually held once a week (Wednesday) in the Vatican City, and in summer at Castel Galdolfo. To participate in a general audience, one must apply to the office of the Prefetto della Casa Pontificia, 00120 Citta del Vaticano. Americans should apply to the North American College, Via dell'UmiltÓ 30. Catholics are requested to have a letter of introduction from their parish priest. For this audience women should dress modestly, with arms and head covered. Dark or subdued colors are requested. Men are asked to wear a tie and jacket, and dark colors are suitable.
The visting hours of the churches are from 7.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 18.00. Most of the catholic churches are open from 7.00 to 18.00. The religious celebrations hours vary according to the day of the week and the city. For information, consult the web sites concerning the Italian churches: