To be born a Habsburg is cool and weird at the same time. It is great to be part of a fantastic family with roots that reach back over 1,000 years. It’s definitely nice to have a cousin to stay with in almost every country in the world. But you are, in a way, under constant surveillance. Classmates turn around in school and stare at you whenever the name is mentioned in history lessons (basically in every century since the 13th). I’m sure you’ll believe me when I say that it’s quite an experience.

And there’s one nagging thought that is somehow always present: what does it mean to be a Habsburg today? What is the set of values that come today with this name when our family hasn’t ruled for almost 100 years?

In a way, that was the question that the family asked itself when we decided to hold our first worldwide gathering in more than 15 years. We decided to return to our (Catholic) roots and make a pilgrimage to Rome, at the end of the Year of Mercy, to meet the Successor of Peter. It proved to be a great decision.

After months of preparation, nearly 300 Habsburgs from all over the world descended on Rome for one intense weekend. The pilgrimage brought together family members who had never met before (except on a private Facebook page that we have used for the past two years), but who have one thing in common: that they belong to this great family. We spent time with each other, and ate pasta, prayed and walked the streets of Rome together.

At our meeting with Pope Francis it turned out that the values that were at the core of our family for centuries are still the ones that will carry us into the future. It all came together for us in the Pope’s speech in the Clementine Hall, with Francis surrounded by scores of Habsburg children, while gently conversing with the none (grandmothers) among us.

The Pope spoke to us about our great ancestor, Blessed Emperor Charles (whose relic we gave him as a present). He noted that Blessed Charles was, first and foremost, a family man. Francis encouraged us to help the world rediscover the value of family in our times. That’s a natural thing for us to do. Yours truly, for instance, is blessed with a lovely wife and six children – a far cry from the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresia, who had 16, but still…

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