ROME - Benedict XVI couldn’t have imagined this, because his thoughts were elsewhere: but the news of his resignation was met with cheers by thousands of people in Rome.
Why? Because the resignation of a pope has the same effect as the Olympic Games or a Jubilee for the city of Rome: it brings tourists, jobs and money.
The pope’s resignation comes during a deep crisis, with drops in sales between 10-30% in Rome. So, everyone is rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to cash in.
“After months of stagnation, we’re expecting an increase of at least 10% in hotel attendance, maybe even higher when the conclave begins. We know that Rome will be on display on televisions all over the world so, in the long run, this could attract more tourists,” explains Giuseppe Roscioli, President of the Rome Hotels Association.
“The next pope? He’ll bring us more people,” says Marco, one of the authorized sellers in Saint Peter’s Square. “During the last seven years, Pope Benedict wasn’t seen very much. We hope that the next one will be a little more social and will go back to organizing events.”
Business doesn’t care about anyone – not even the popes. The rules have been the same for centuries: you need to support yourself and to do so, you’ll sell whatever is in demand.
To sell, you need people in the piazza and for this to happen, you need the Vatican to give them a reason to come. Pope John Paul II succeeded in doing this with his 147 ceremonies of beatification during which 1,338 people were beatified, 52 were canonized, and 482 proclaimed into sainthood. In order to sell things to these pilgrims, they need to feel a connection -- and John Paul II excelled at this.
Even though Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation created such a huge buzz surrounding this tiny State, the demand for all things Jean Paul II has stayed the same as during the eight years of the German pontiff. To the tourists, John Paul II represented a pope who was able to change the papacy into a face with whom everyone – even those with no interest in the Vatican – could connect.
The tragedy of Pope Benedict XVI
The merchandise that is sold on the streets that surround the papal fortress is varied: from mini-statues to calendars, bookmarks, postcards, and magnets. In every one of them, the disproportion between the last two popes is evident. If Pope Benedict’s face appears alone, the item is half hidden; however, it’s in full view if Jean Paul II is also in the image. This is the tragedy of Benedict XVI, who unfortunately didn’t spark on a tenth of the light his predecessor did.
Katrina, 31, is German and visiting Rome with her boyfriend on a trip they had planned for a long time. They happened to find themselves on via della Conciliazione in the midst of Benedict XVI's resignation, but as soon as she saw a calendar of Jean Paul II, she lit up, took it in her hand and immediately snapped a photo. As for the only postcard on display of her compatriotic pope – not even a glance. The sellers know this and just one look at their windows is proof.
Take the A.V.E. bookshop on via della Conciliazione. The postcard collection is full of landscapes and views of the city, but for every card of Pope Benedict XVI, there are six of John Paul II. Just a few meters away, at Daos, the comparison is even more merciless: nine to one. There’s only one calendar in view and it’s of the Polish pontiff. As for the bookmarks? Five to zero. The only place that Pope Benedict beats his predecessor is the pocket-sized calendars, three to two, but that might just be due the Jean Paul II ones being sold out.
Next door is the Don Bosco bookshop, where the postcards cost 35 cents, or three euros for 10. Jean Paul II wins here 18 to six. Nova coffee shop, even though it’s a bar, showcases rosaries, crucifixes, statues, and flags. Nine are of John Paul II and four of Benedict XVI. In the Chinese owned stores near the Sant’Angelo Bridge, Pope Benedict doesn’t even appear -- they prefer to play it safe in sales game.
In a nearby shop, there is one particular postcard of Benedict XVI that is placed in plain view and sells very well. In it, he’s hugging Pope John Paul II.