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Vatican braces for 300,000 for John Paul beatification

'But we'll be able to cope with even more,' pilgrim body says

29 March, 15:21
Vatican braces for 300,000 for John Paul beatification (ANSA) - Vatican City, March 29 - The Vatican is gearing to handle an estimated 300,000 faithful flocking to Rome for the beatification of pope John Paul II on May 1 and says it is ready to cope with even more.

"Some 300,000 pilgrims are expected but the figure might change," said Father Cesare Atuire, CEO of the Vatican pilgrims' organisation Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP).

"The city can manage any number of faithful," Father Atuire said Tuesday.

"Our mission is to make sure all those who want to come to Rome and take part in this great event will find the city open and ready," he said at ORP's presentation of the beatification.

Father Atuire denied that estimates of numbers had dropped from an initially circulated two million pilgrims.

He said the earlier figure had been based on the total number who came to Rome during the two weeks of John Paul's last days through to the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. There will be an estimated 300,000 on each of the three days of the upcoming event, he said: a vigil at Circus Maximus on Saturday, the ceremony in St Peter's on Sunday, and a thanksgiving mass on Monday. "So in fact the overall number rises by quite a lot," the ORP chief said.

Father Atuire added that there would be "no clash" with Labour Day celebrations.

The cost of hosting the event will be 3-4 euros per visitor, paid for by private institutions, said ORP President Msgr Liberio Andreatta, stressing that the Italian state will not have to foot any of the bill.

ORP has set up two websites, www.jpiibeatus.org and www.operaromanapellegrinaggi.org to give people all the information they need for their trip. The sites, available in Italian, English, Spanish, German and Polish, tell John Paul II fans how to get to Rome, where to stay, and what initiatives are planned, as well as providing real-time updates on road congestion.

There is a multimedia section where events will be streamed as well as links to other sites including one on canonisation and others belonging to municipal and regional organisations aiming to help make the beatification as successful as possible.

Hotel and transport reservations are on offer as well as a pass for getting into and moving around Rome and visiting a number of sites with a packed lunch provided, the Special JPII Pass.

The pass also gives discounts with a raft of retail and catering associations as well as healthcare coverage.

The pope was put on a fast track to sainthood amid a clamour calling for him to be made a saint straight away with calls of "Santo Subito!" from crowds outside the Vatican when he died in April 2005.

His successor Benedict in January recognised a miracle involving a French nun's recovery from Parkinson's disease, the requirement for beatification, the second step on the way to sainthood.

Another miracle will have to be recognised to make the Polish pope a saint.

Rome hotels are already said to be full around the beatification date, when the pope's coffin will be moved up from the crypt of St Peter's and put in a chapel near the entrance.

photo: John Paul in 2000