Rome braces for conclave crowd

2013-03-10 17:41

Rome – Officials in the Vatican are facing a headache getting ready for the election of a new pope and his installation afterwards.

They say they are expecting hundreds of thousands of guests, but they don't know where they're coming from, or when they'll arrive.

They don't even know the date of the celebration.

And heaven only knows the name of the man being feted.

Planning for the moment when the next pope is proclaimed to the world, and for the installation ceremony a few days later, is a big-time guessing game. And that adds up to an ungodly logistical headache for the city of Rome.

When white smoke pours out of the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, throngs of Romans will drop what they're doing and race to St Peter's Square to cheer the new pope when he steps out onto the balcony of St Peter's Basilica.

If the next pontiff hails from somewhere in Italy, thousands can be expected to pack trains to the capital.

Then there are all the foreigners flying into town to capture the historic moment — an influx that may become overwhelming if cardinals break with tradition and elect the first pope from Latin America, home to 40%  of the world's Catholics.

A tented field hospital will go up in a square near the Vatican by the eve of the start of the conclave on Tuesday, ensuring that emergency medical treatment will be just around the corner if any pilgrim feels ill or stumbles in the rush to glimpse the new pope.


While there are no other special plans for the conclave itself, Rome authorities have a detailed game-plan for the papal installation that takes place a few days after the pope is elected.

The audience for that momentous event in St Peter's Square will include presidents, prime ministers, religious leaders and tens of thousands of pilgrims, along with the throngs of accidental tourists who happen to be in town.

Police helicopters will whirl overhead. Thousands of extra police will be summoned to duty to keep streets safe and unclogged. Officers on motorised rubber dinghies will glide down the Tiber, ready to dive into the river's murky waters to pick out anything suspicious. Bomb-sniffing dogs will poke their noses down manholes and trash bins in security sweeps along the routes that both VIPs and faithful will cover en route to the square.

As soon as the installation date is known, some 500 Civil Protection volunteers, many of them ready to hop on Segways, will receive phone calls to spring into action.

They know the drill for the big day: They'll report to Rome's main train station and the subway stop closest to the Vatican before dawn, helping like good shepherds to channel the flock along designated streets, closed to traffic, that lead to St Peter's Square.

"Not even the Vatican knows how big the crowd will be," said Mario Vallorosi, who heads the Rome office of the government's Civil Protection service.

"It will be affected by who (the pope) is. If he's a Latin American, he will draw huge crowds."

Conservative crowd estimates, he said, run between 200 000 and 300 000.


Since Benedict XVI gave two-week's notice last month for his resignation — the first in 600 years — there have been a few "trial runs" of crowd control and security in St Peter's Square.

His final public audience drew so many people (about 150 000) there wasn't enough space for all in the vast cobblestone square.

Surrounding streets quickly filled up with the overflow, with many faithful watching the pope's final public Vatican appearance on maxi-screens set up for them.

The most mentioned date for the new pope's installation Mass in St Peter's Square is Sunday, 17 March, exactly a week before Palm Sunday begins Holy Week.

Complicating a 17 March papal installation is the fact that the capital is hosting the Rome marathon on the same day.

Some 100 000 runners are expected for the race, which traditionally loops near St Peter's Square in mid-morning.

That's practically the same time huge crowds could be surging toward the Vatican for a first papal Mass.

If the installation falls on marathon day, the race will go ahead but re-routed away from the Vatican.

The marathon's start will also be put off until early afternoon, when presumably the new pope, pilgrims and Romans will be eating lunch.

If the marathon weren't enough, 17 March is also St Patrick's Day, with thousands of Irish rugby fans expected in Rome because Ireland plays Italy the day before in the Six Nations tournament.







  • MariaLuisaFranciolini - 2013-03-10 23:29

    Do not worry. We'll make this time too. We survived even at the funeral of John Paul II. On that occasion, as well as the heads of state of all countries of the world, we had millions of pilgrims from Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. It 's so nice to have people from all corners of the earth.

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