Holiday atmosphere as Rome gears up for papal canonization
By James Mackenzie
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - St. Peter's Square was packed ahead of Sunday's canonization of two of the 20th century's great popes but hustling tour guides and a hint of the fairground were reminders that it will be a show as well as a solemn ceremony.
More than a million people are expected in and around the square to see Pope Francis declare as saints John XXIII, the Italian pontiff who launched the modernizing Second Vatican Council in 1962, and John Paul II, the revered Pole who led the Church for almost 27 years before his death in 2005.
Groups of pilgrims from Poland to Paraguay have come to attend the ceremony, drawn partly by the appeal of Francis, who has injected fresh enthusiasm into many Catholics since his appointment just over a year ago. The fame of the two popes being canonized has also attracted the faithful.
"I feel very happy because both of them inspire us," said Father Emmanuel Emeka, a priest from Nigeria. "I think both of them have a lot to teach us."
As has been true since Christian pilgrims began arriving in Rome more than 1,500 years ago, religious devotion exists side by side with the excitement of a holiday despite gloomy weather.
Tour guides in colored T shirts offered bus tours of the city and promised to get groups into Saint Peter's Basilica without the need for long queuing. Beggars circled wide-eyed tourists from as far away as Africa or Japan.
Alfredo Chiarelli, one of a small group of street merchants known as "urtisti," Italian for people who stop you on the street, has been busy selling religious souvenirs.
He engages curious tourists who stop to look at his tray of crucifixes, medallions and special rose-scented rosaries, his biggest seller. Continued...