BY BRUCE JOHNSTON IN ROME THE VATICAN has reacted with unusual hostility to complaints in the Italian press and by lay authorities and associations that Pentecostal celebrations last weekend brought Rome to a "humiliating" standstill.
The event, which was seen as a "dress rehearsal" for the 2000 Jubilee, when at least 24 million people are likely to travel to Rome, attracted to 200,000 mainly young pilgrims from 56 Italian and international organisations. It cost the city hundreds of thousands of pounds in policing and cleaning, and attracted a rash of complaints including from the Jubilee Lay Observatory, and in the form of editorials, and letters to papers.
Caterers in the Borgo area which nestles under the shadow of St Peters complained that the hordes of pilgrims brought their own food in their rucksacks, while driving away Italians and tourists, thus leaving restau
rants empty. The press talked of widespread inconvenience, while in a letter reprinted on the front page of one paper, an intellectual said "parts of Italy" near the Vatican were being unacceptably "violated" and "invaded by a foreign country" in the name of the Jubilee.
Locals claimed residential gardens had been turned into "Open sewers," while the lay co-ordinator for the Jubilee, Giovanni Negri, expressed his total dismay. He said the city had been "under siege," and called the event "an humiliating" experience for Rome which he said he wished he had "never seen."
"Curfews in parts of the city, coaches which brought traffic to a standstill along the river, appeals to stay at home or at least to not use the car these things speak for themselves," he fumed.
He pointed out that in the year 2000, at least 24 similar events were planned, some of them on weekdays. In an article which threw rare light on this acrimonious controversy between spiritual and temporal Rome that has been festering for some time over the Jubilee, the Osservatore Romano newspaper lashed out at the criticisms with some uncharacteristically bitter words.
"Does one honestly expect that those hundreds of thousands of Catholics should ask to be excused for their prayers in St Peter's Square?" the official Vatican organ ironically pondered.
The capital, it added, has had to put up "plenty of other invasions" which made life difficult for Romans. The Pentecost event, whose attendance figures the Vatican first estimated at 500,000, brought many major roads in the capital, and all those near the Vatican, to a halt.
Services were diverted, whole streets cut off to traffic, while young pilgrims danced to amplified music by bands whose images were beamed onto giant screens on the Via della Conciiiazione, the avenue leading from the Tiber up to St Peter's. In another letter published in Rome's La Repubblica on Tuesday, an Italian took up the Vatican's defence, and attacked "lay" people such as those monitoring the Jubilee for having "only one wish to destroy the Church."
Alongside, in another letter, a Roman lamented his "bad luck" at living by the Vatican, and said he did not know whether he "or for that matter many other Romans" would be able to cope with the Jubilee. It was now clear that this was "a more modern, global and efficient version of the sale of indulgences," he wrote.