New pope means new business for recession-weary Rome

VATICAN CITY — On the night of the unexpected election of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, many of … Continued

VATICAN CITY — On the night of the unexpected election of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, many of the Romans gathered in St. Peter’s Square were actually rooting for an American pope — and not only for the breath of fresh air a “Yankee pope” promised to bring to the centuries-old traditions of the Vatican.

Rome’s business owners had pinned their hopes on the election of an American pope in the hope that it would generate an extra influx of tourists — and bring some much needed relief to the Eternal City’s crisis-battered economy.

Rome was hit particularly hard in the global recession that saw Italy’s gross domestic product (the sum of all goods and services produced) shrink by 2.2 percent in 2012. Recent data show that unemployment in the Eternal City rose by almost 3 percent in the last four years.

“We hope the conclave lasts for a few days and that they elect an American pope: he would bring more tourists,” the owner of a cafe near the Vatican told the La Repubblica newspaper before the conclave.

As it turned out, the cardinals chose the new pope quickly, after only two days of voting, and opted for a Latin American.

Still, the first few days of Bergoglio’s papacy have sparked enthusiasm in Rome and throughout the world. And Roman shop owners and hotel managers have started to believe that the election of Pope Francis will still be good news for them.

The new pope is “worth around 50 or 55 million euros a month,” Giuseppe Roscioli, president of Italy’s hoteliers association told the Corriere della Sera daily.

If at first tourists will mostly come from Argentina, “then they will come from all South America, Brazil, Mexico and so on,” he said.

The positive effect of Bergoglio’s election will be felt for five or six months, he added.

Rome’s economy has already been boosted by the recent influx of tourists and journalists who wanted to witness the papal transition.

The day of Francis’ election, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that rates for hotel rooms and rental apartments in the vicinity of the Vatican had skyrocketed since Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation announcement on Feb. 11.

Renting an apartment near St. Peter’s for the duration of the conclave might cost up to 8,000 euros (about $10,000), or even more if it sports a room with a view of St. Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel’s chimney.

The price of hotel rooms more than doubled compared to normal rates this season, according to Federconsumatori, a consumer association.

Small businesses around the Vatican, such as souvenir sellers, have benefited too — even if they too were taken by surprise by Bergoglio’s election.

Just minutes after Francis finished introducing himself to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on March 13, a woman perusing the shelves of a tourist shop just outside the square asked the storekeeper, “When will you have souvenirs of the new pope?”

“Tomorrow, maybe the day after tomorrow,” the man answered. “I just called the supplier and he says they were planning for the Italian or the Brazilian. They didn’t expect this. So it’s going to take a little longer.”

It usually takes no longer than 48 hours for souvenir suppliers to produce rosaries, medals, key chains and candles with the image of the new pope.

Cecilia Lozzi of Mondoroma Distribuzione, a company that makes papal souvenirs, said after a new Vatican law introduced copyright on the pope’s image, producers must wait for the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, to supply an official image.

But, even as they wait for the official image, many producers decided to use the iconic image of Francis smilingly saluting the crowd from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Less than 48 hours after his election, Bergoglio’s face already adorned rosaries, postcards and prayer cards sold at the trinket stands near St. Peter’s Square. Prices ranged anywhere from 75 cents to $9.

While the most popular papal souvenirs remain those bearing the image of John Paul II, souvenir shops hope that Bergoglio will eventually prove just as popular.

“I think he’s going to be a good pope,” Stefano Di Segni, owner of a trinket stand around the Vatican for 30 years, told Reuters. And, he hopes, good for business.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

More on:
Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.