'Phantom' pilgrims fail to bring cash to Vatican

2016-11-18 21:06


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Rome - The Vatican's Jubilee Year was supposed to draw 20 million Catholics to Rome, where hotels and restaurants were rubbing their hands with glee, waiting to cash in.

But two days before the closure of Pope Francis's special Year of Mercy, a disgruntled hospitality trade has slammed it as a flop.

"We were expecting much more than this. We did even worse than last year," said Antonio Calicchia, who owns a traditional restaurant a few hundred metres from Saint Peter's Square.

"We heard some 20 million pilgrims would be coming to Rome. Where did they hide?" he quipped, bitterly.

Gloomy results

The "Francis effect", which saw world leaders race to have their photos taken with the popular Argentine pontiff after his election in 2013, failed to translate into a boost to recession-weary businesses during the Jubilee and local traders blame security fears.

"The attacks in Paris fuelled fear, not only in France, but in all Western countries," said Walter Parise, whose souvenir shop sells plates with the face of the pontiff on them as well as miniature models of the Colosseum.

"What's more, I remember that the media repeatedly said last year that the Vatican could also be targetted by terrorists," he added.

Rome's hotel and restaurant federation confirmed the gloomy results, saying the number of visitors in 2016 - tourists and pilgrims alike - was more or less the same as last year at around 14 million.

"It is as if there hadn't been a Jubilee. I don't think anybody realised there was one," said the federation's president Giuseppe Roscioli.

In an article headlined "Empty churches and a city at a standstill, it's the phantom Jubilee," a left-leaning newspaper pointed to religious events that failed to draw the expected crowds and much-needed urban projects in the capital put on hold for the duration.

20 million pilgrims

Waving sourly "Goodbye to the low-cost Jubilee", the Repubblica said the "many faithful who have crossed the Holy Doors of the four papal basilicas" - a symbolic step for Catholics in a Holy Year - brought "no benefit to Rome tourism".

The Vatican defended itself, pointing out the aim of the Jubilee was not to feed the Eternal City's coffers and saying Francis had wanted a sober event but one that could be celebrated around the world through numerous new "Holy Doors".

His message had been clear: a year ago, the Argentine had broken with tradition and symbolically opened the first such door in Bangui in the Central African Republic, before the centuries-old one in Saint Peter's.

The Vatican's Jubilee co-ordinator Rino Fisichella insisted that, by the Holy See's count, 20 million pilgrims did indeed flow through Rome, saying claims to the contrary came from "an overactive imagination".

Read more on:    pope francis  |  vatican city

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