Canonisation: Rome mayor unhappy about picking up tab

Ignazio Marino expects events to cost city some €7m and says bill should be shared


Sainthood is all very well but at the end of this historic Roman weekend who is going to pick up the tab? The man asking that very practical question on the weekend of the canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II is none other than the Mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino.

“It’s only obvious that the organisation of a worldwide event like this has a cost. Just think of the figures – four million bottles of water distributed, 10,000 hours of overtime for the various police authorities including 2,000 Roman police and 2,600 members of the Civil Protection service…”, said the Mayor.

Mr Marino, a US-trained liver transplant specialist who returned to Italy to “make a contribution” to his own country, has put a price on this historic weekend.

“My calculations say that it will cost around €7 million,” he said. “This situation has already occurred in Rome, on the occasion of the funeral of John Paul II, and I have written to the prime minister (Matteo Renzi)…to argue that this has to be considered as a national and international event and that therefore Rome and Romans cannot bear all the costs.”

With up to one million people expected to arrive in Rome tomorrow for the ceremony, a huge “handling” operation has been set in place.

Earlier this week, Maurizio Pucci, the Mayor’s point man on the canonisations, said that his main concern was to control the “flow of human traffic”, to keep people moving. To that end, roads all around the Vatican will be closed from this afternoon whilst no trains will be allowed to stop at St Peter’s train station tomorrow.

In and around St. Peter’s Square itself, where the ceremony takes place, a vast army is assembling – 3,300 policemen, 250 fire brigade units, 2,600 civil protection volunteers, six medical “field camps”, 50 ambulances and 43 mobile medical teams, not to mention almost 1,000 portable toilets.

In this latter regard, some café and bar owners have opted to pull down the shutters and close shop since past experience tells them that they risk being mobbed by pilgrims desperate to use their bathroom facilities.

Even if many Romans have opted to get out of the city on this busiest of weekends, a dozen different city centre churches will hold all-night prayer vigils tonight. For those who cannot get anywhere near St Peter’s because of the crowd crush, too, some 18 big screens have been set up around the city with the authorities pointing out that Piazza Farnese, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Santa Maria Maggiore and Piazza Navona all represent alternative meeting and viewing points.

The immediate area around St. Peter’s can hold 200,000 people so the overflow, alternative sites will prove essential.

Tomorrow’s ceremony has been named the “Four Popes Show” because it involves Pope Francis canonising two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, in the presence of a third, namely Pope “Emeritus” Benedict XVI, a long time close aide to John Paul II. During the three hour long ceremony, some 5,000 priests will be on hand to administer the Eucharist.

With the service due to begin at 10am local time, the 19 heads of state and 24 heads of government expected to attend are due for an early start. Authorities open up the square at 5.30am tomorrow morning but expect it to fill up in a very short time. As it is, the square is currently full of pilgrims, who are asked to leave at 5pm this evening.

One piece of good news is the weather forecast. Rain is expected tomorrow but not until the afternoon, by which time the canonisation service will have concluded.