Paying Top Dollar To Honor Pope John Paul II

With 2.5 million expected for the beloved Pope's beatification, hotel prices start to soar and the Vatican warns against price gouging the pilgrims.

Papal keepsakes (Radio Nederland)

VATICAN CITY - As Rome braces for a massive influx of pilgrims for the May 1 beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, hotels in the Eternal City are whetting their collective lips. Add to the once-in-a-lifetime spiritual celebration, an annual May Day popular music festival and the arrival of warm Roman weather, and prices of some downtown hotels have suddenly tripled. Even rooms on the outskirts of the city are selling out.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to flock to Rome for the ceremony marking the beatification of John Paul, to put him on the road to sainthood six years after his death brought millions to the Italian capital. Finding a room near the Vatican is already virtually impossible, but now hotel prices have increased by between 200 and 300 % for the end of April, beginning of May.

A two-star hotel near the Termini railway station, for example, normally charges 100 euros a night, and goes down to 48 euros in the low tourist season. But it is charging 330 euros for the night between April 30 and May 1. A double room in a four-star hotel in the downtown Piazza della Repubblica normally goes for 273 euros a night, but for that night the fare goes up to 492 euros.

Giuseppe Roscioli, head of the Rome chapter of the Federalberghi hotel association, shrugged off any controversy. "There's no price speculation," says Roscioli. "The increase is just a question of the law of supply and demand: as demand grows, so do prices, even if the price can never be over the maximum fare that is advertised – that would be illegal."

Roscioli said that the choice of May 1, when Rome hosts the annual daylong concert that attracts tens of thousands of youths, to beatify John Paul was "senseless' from the hoteliers' point of view. "It's like trying to find a room in Monte Carlo during the Formula One race," he said. Talks over how to cope with the situation are planned with city hall officials.

The 200 religious institutes of the greater Rome province, including 160 in the city itself, have made some 15,000 beds available, including 10,000 in the city. But they sold out within 24 hours of the beatification announcement, with a long waiting list now built up. "Bookings have all been confirmed within a week's time," said Andrea Misuri of the religious institutes. Misuri said the greater region of Lazio, which includes Rome, has been mobilized, from the Castelli foothills south of the capital to the San Felice Circeo area on the southern coast.

Pilgrims are expected from across the globe: Poland, John Paul's home country, France, Germany, Spain and South America. Typically a bed in such institutes is about 30 to 50 % less than an average hotel room, "In this case there have been increases, " Misuri concedes, "but moderate ones."

If you are thinking bed and breakfast, think again. An operator of a B&B near St. Peter's Square said rooms in that period go by the week , and for a price -- 1,800 euros -- usually charged for an entire month. "All our rooms are booked, and we had to turn away many requests," said the operator.

The regional government of Lazio is readying two university campuses to accommodate the youths who want to take part in the event. But many pilgrims are expected to get to Rome by bus in the morning and leave the same night. Many have asked the religious institutes to be able to park their buses near the institutes and be allowed to use their facilities.

Worry over the price hikes has been voiced by the Vatican. "It will be a huge celebration of faith, and it's not right to exploit the world's devotion and genuine love for (John Paul)," said a source at the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

Read the original article in Italian

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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