Rome scrambles to ready for 2 million pilgrims

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Crowd control experts were rushing to ready Rome for an estimated 2 million pilgrims for Pope John Paul II's beatification on May 1, when the city will be thronged with Easter week tourists.

No tickets or invitations will be necessary - as many faithful who want to be there to see the Polish-born pontiff beatified, the last formal step before possible sainthood, can come, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Saturday.

"We don't give estimates" of the size of the crowds who will come, Benedettini. But Italian news reports say authorities in Rome were planning for 2 million pilgrims.

With St. Peter's Square and the boulevard leading from the Tiber to the Vatican able to hold a few hundred thousand people, large video screens are expected to be set up in nearby streets so the spillover crowd can watch the ceremony led by Pope Benedict XVI.

The last turnout so big in Rome was the 3 million mourners for John Paul's funeral and other ceremonies following his death in April 2005 after he struggled for years with Parkinson's disease.

Even the more popular ceremonies in his papacy didn't come near to drawing so many faithful. When an ailing John Paul beatified Mother Teresa in 2003 in St. Peter's Square, 300,000 pilgrims attended. Padre Pio's sainthood ceremony, led by John Paul in June 2002, saw about 200,000 faithful swelter the square in one of the larger turnouts in his 26-year-long papacy.

In 2000, about 700,000 young Catholics streamed into Rome for church World Youth Day events stretched out over several days at locations throughout the city as well as at the Vatican.

La Stampa, an Italian daily, said the national civil protection agency personnel hope to rein in any chaos by meeting pilgrims' buses and channeling the faithful down selected streets to the square.

Easter falls on April 24, meaning Rome's hotels will be brimming with Easter week tourists, when many students are on school break and families pour into Italy, so organizers might look to Romans to open their homes to pilgrims.

May 1 is also national labor day, and traditional May Day concerts near St. John in Lateran Basilica usually draw hundreds of thousands of young people from throughout Italy to enjoy the free music.

On Friday, Benedict set the date for beatification after declaring that a French nun's recovery from Parkinson's disease was the miracle needed for John Paul to be beatified. A second miracle, attributed to John Paul's intercession after the beatification ceremony, will be needed for the widely popular pontiff to be honored with sainthood.

Once he is beatified, John Paul will be given the title "blessed" and can be publicly venerated.

Veneration is the word commonly used to refer to that worship given to saints, either directly or through images or relics, which is different in kind from the divine worship given to God only, according to reference work, the Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary.

John Paul's entombed remains, currently in the grotto underneath St. Peter's Basilica, will be moved upstairs to a chapel just inside a main entrance for easier access by throngs of admirers.


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