+++ Update +++ At 19.07h Vatican Time white smoke rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel – Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis I +++
Sede vacante – both in a secular and religious sense: Rome is currently without leadership. Alhough the absence of a government might seem to be a nightmare scenario in the middle of an acute finan-cial crisis, one pillar of reliance will be restored very shortly. When, what experts expect to happen, the white smoke will vanish out of the Sistine Chapel at some point this week to announce that a new leader for the Catholic Church has been elected, people all over the world will follow the inau-guration ceremony of the new pope. Most of them to celebrate their faith. However, some will also turn their television on only to identify the man that just stepped on the Benediction Loggia of St. Peter and the name he gave himself in the hopes of making some money.
Most fancied in the betting offices is the Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, on whom the odds are 11/4. Bookmakers also take bets on the name of the coming pope. The Economist worked out that 42.1 per cent are currently betting on ‘Leo’ while ‘Gregor’ takes the second place with only 16.7 per cent. Global interest in the vacant Apostolic See is extremely high and the resignation of Benedict XVI strongly contributed to this. Around the day of this historical sensation ten-thousands of pilgrims flocked to the Vatican to accompany the Holy Father Emeritus in his last general audience and fi-nally in his recessional from the Apostolic Palace. Hundreds of broadcasting studios, radio channels, photographers and journalists reported about the event on-site and paid good money for this privilege. Accommodation was already twice as expensive on the beginning of March than during Christmas: for a hotel room with a view of St. Peter’s Square rates started from €10 000.
For the time during the conclave the visitor numbers can easily be multiplied by ten: hundreds of thousands of people are expected to turn up this week – right now, even the rainy weather in Rome does not prevent believers from waiting in front of St. Peter and filling up St. Peter’s Square com-pletely. These tourists need accommodation, food and prezzies. Rates for a hotel room with a view of the Sistine Chapel now start from €60 000 a night and a ceiling is not in sight, prices of all other hotel rooms are calculated to have generally increased by two hundred per cent compared to normal rates: an ordinary double room near the centre, for example, starts from €500 a night, that is a rate usually paid for a double room in a five-star hotel in London. And this is just half of the story: sandwiches in the cafes cost around seven euros each and one pays up to three euros for a half litre bottle of water. In the pizzerias the menus list the favourites dishes of the Pope Emeritus and some restaurants even have names completely under the banner of the conclave: “Habemus Pizza” (based on the prominent Latin exclamation – We have a Pope) or “Habemus Café” as well as “Dal Papa” (Pope’s). 2470 broadcasting teams, 336 newspapers and 231 radio stations – Tuesday alone saw a crowd of six thousand journalists – registered to report about the secret election and its outcome and each of them are driving the prices for studio pitches literally to heaven. Most of the money will eventually land on the divine bank account and everyone who is able to do the Maths will see that this amount is not small, especially regarding the multiplier effect, which is relatively high for tourism.
In Rome, this tourism is currently at its maximum and is, furthermore, predicted to remain this high up until the summer. Easter is almost here and again, ten-thousands of pilgrims are expected (to stimulate the Vatican economy and) to follow the procedures. By then, the new leader of the Catholic Church will most likely have been elected – and he will be the right one. As unprogressive and medieval as the Roman Catholic Church and its leader are often described, as far-sighted they are when it comes to their ‘political’ continuity. Unlike mother Italy, they have a plan B and know what to do when the state is without a leader: elect one – and that there will be one is as safe as the Bank of England, or in their words: as sure as the “Amen” in the Church.