The Italian Almanac

San Pietro

Italian News - April 3

Rome is preparing extra trains, fresh water supplies and thousands of beds in expectation that the death of Pope John Paul II will spur one of the greatest influxes of pilgrims in its memory. More than 130,000 people streamed into St Peter’s Square on Saturday night as word spread of the death of the Polish Pope who led the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics for more than a quarter of a century.

As hundreds of people wept openly in the streets, workmen were already winching up signs around the Eternal City to direct the flood of millions more who are expected to arrive in the coming days for the Pontiff’s lying-in-state and funeral. For the Pope’s funeral alone, officials are reported to be expecting at least 2 million people to cram into Rome’s cobbled streets, far outnumbering the 250,000 that filled St. Peter’s Square for Mother Teresa’s beatification, among the most popular events of John Paul’s pontificate.

To help house the visitors, at least three sports venues, including Rome’s Olympic Stadium, will be opened. Italian pilgrims are expected to be joined by faithful from as far away as Poland seeking to pay their final respects to history’s third-longest serving Pontiff. To help them on their way, transport officials have pledged extra trains, buses and makeshift parking lots to try to ease Rome’s already chaotic traffic system. Maintenance work on the underground rail network has been suspended. Meanwhile, hundreds of voluntary staff and sanitation crews have been drafted in to build makeshift toilets and drinking fountains.