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New Pope Means New Business
for Recession-weary Rome

BY ALESSANDRO SPECIALE and DAVID GIBSON                                                   ©2013 Religion News Service

On the night of the unexpected election of Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, many of the Romans gathered in St. Peter's Square were actually rooting for an American pope--and not only for the breath of fresh air a "Yankee pope" promised to bring to the centuries-old traditions of the Vatican.

Rome's business owners had pinned their hopes on the election of an American pope in the hope that it would generate an extra influx of tourists--and bring some much needed relief to the Eternal City's crisis-battered economy.

Rome was hit particularly hard in the global recession that saw Italy's gross domestic product (the sum of all goods and services produced) shrink by 2.2 percent in 2012. Recent data show that unemployment in the Eternal City rose by almost 3 percent in the last four years.

"We hope the conclave lasts for a few days and that they elect an American pope: he would bring more tourists," the owner of a cafe near the Vatican told the La Repubblica newspaper before the conclave.

As it turned out, the cardinals chose the new pope quickly, after only two days of voting, and opted for a Latin American.

Still, the first few days of Bergoglio's papacy have sparked enthusiasm in Rome and throughout the world. And Roman shop owners and hotel managers have started to believe that the election of Pope Francis will still be good news for them.

The new pope is "worth around 50 or 55 million euros a month," Giuseppe Roscioli, president of Italy's hoteliers association told the Corriere della Sera daily.

If at first tourists will mostly come from Argentina, "then they will come from all South America, Brazil, Mexico and so on," he said.

The positive effect of Bergoglio's election will be felt for five or six months, he added.

Rome's economy has already been boosted by the recent influx of tourists and journalists who wanted to witness the papal transition.

The day of Francis' election, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that rates for hotel rooms and rental apartments in the vicinity of the Vatican had skyrocketed since Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation announcement on February 11.

Renting an apartment near St. Peter's for the duration of the conclave might cost up to 8,000 euros (about $10,000), or even more if it sports a room with a view of St. Peter's Basilica or the Sistine Chapel's chimney.

The price of hotel rooms more than doubled compared to normal rates this season, according to Federconsumatori, a consumer association.

Small businesses around the Vatican, such as souvenir sellers, have benefited too--even if they too were taken by surprise by Bergoglio's election.

Just minutes after Francis finished introducing himself to the crowd in St. Peter's Square on March 13, a woman perusing the shelves of a tourist shop just outside the square asked the storekeeper, "When will you have souvenirs of the new pope?"

"Tomorrow, maybe the day after tomorrow," the man answered. "I just called the supplier and he says they were planning for the Italian or the Brazilian. They didn't expect this. So it's going to take a little longer."

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