Rome fights its demons as Holy Year approaches
By Isla Binnie
ROME, (Reuters) - Rome is bracing for the arrival of millions of pilgrims for the Roman Catholic Holy Year which officials had hoped could revitalize the scandal-plagued city, but which threatens to be more of a headache than a help.
Pope Francis took Italy by surprise when he announced in March that a Holy Year, one of the Church's most important events, would start on Dec. 8, some nine years before the next one had been scheduled.
During the 12-month Jubilee, Catholics coming to the Eternal City can gain indulgences, which, they believe, might speed their passage to heaven.
However, before they can turn their thoughts to paradise, they will first have to navigate the many obstacles that Rome will throw their way - including clogged traffic, a crumbling public transport system and heightened security.
The Vatican says 25 million people came to Rome for the last Holy Year, in 2000, and local politicians saw the latest, unexpected, Jubilee as an opportunity to draw on central government funds and spruce up the increasingly dilapidated city.
But whereas last time the city had years to get ready for the pilgrim invasion, this time around it had only had a few months to make plans. Already chaotic preparations were thrown deeper into disarray in October when Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino was forced to resign in an unrelated expenses scandal.
His entire administration had to stand down with him, meaning that with just weeks to go before the Holy Year the city was rudderless. The national government dispatched a team of unelected bureaucrats to step into the breach.
When they took charge, none of the major projects related to the Jubilee, such as repaving pothole-riddled roads, had been started. Continued...