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 CNS Story:

VATICAN LETTER Jul-30-2004 (790 words) xxxi

Hammers and security radios: At St. Peter's, workers must multitask

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. Peter's Basilica may be one of the few places in the world where a man aspiring to a position as a carpenter has a better chance of being hired if he can speak more than one language.

Multitasking is an official part of the job description for the basilica's 80-man corps of "sanpietrini," (roughly "St. Peterites"), who are expected to spend part of the workday performing cleaning or maintenance tasks and part of the day serving as ushers and guards.

They are equipped with overalls and with uniform suits. Hammers, machines for washing or buffing the marble floors, vacuum cleaners and rags give way to security radios for the second part of the shift.

In dealing with tourists, they are assisted by up to 40 "student guardians," each dressed in a dark suit and tie and wearing an identification badge. Most of the students, all male, are enrolled at one of the city's Catholic universities.

The men work for the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for maintenance and order inside the 215,000-square-foot basilica, and are trained the old-fashioned way, said Daniele Pergolizzi, director of the Fabbrica's photographic office.

"The old teach the young," he said.

The "sanpietrini" are not tour guides. They are instructed to offer brief, courteous replies to tourists' questions, then return to their assigned task.

The workers will direct the more inquisitive tourists to a room near the basilica's entrance where a new, one-hour "audio guide" to St. Peter's can be rented for 5 euros (about $6.15). It is available in English, Italian, Spanish, French and German.

While officials at the Fabbrica gave the "sanpietrini" permission to speak to a reporter in mid-July, they did so on the condition that none of the men's names be used.

Five separate "sanpietrini" and a Vatican police officer, on duty at the entrance to the elevator leading up to the dome of St. Peter's, each said the question they hear most often is: "Where is the Sistine Chapel?"

To be fair to the tourists, the police officer said that when he is on duty in the Vatican Museums -- where tourists can access the Sistine Chapel -- the most frequent question is: "Where is St. Peter's Basilica?"

Other popular questions, said a "sanpietrino" interrupted as he used a vacuum to dust a cornice, include: "Where are we?" and "Where is the Pieta?"

"We try to be welcoming and kind, but it is difficult when so many of the tourists do not know where they are," he said, referring not to lost tourists, but to visitors who do not realize St. Peter's Basilica is a functioning Catholic Church built over the tomb of the Apostle Peter.

"Faith no longer exists," said the worker, who is in his early 30s. "It's just tourism. People treat the basilica like a museum and have no idea it is church."

In late July, Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, archpriest of the basilica, took a step toward combating the problem. Over loudspeakers in the basilica's atrium, visitors are welcomed, reminded the church is "a sacred place of prayer," asked to keep their voices down and to dress and behave appropriately.

The recording, using women's voices in nine languages -- including Japanese and Chinese -- also expresses the hope that the visit will be meaningful for all who enter.

The "sanpietrini" agreed that dealing with the public is easier in the winter than in the summer; there are fewer crowds and "no one tries to get in wearing shorts or miniskirts."

But the work is not total drudgery. The men take real pride in working in the world's largest Christian church and -- once reassured that their names will not be used -- they freely admit it is not a bad place to meet young women.

A fair number of "sanpietrini" speak Spanish, one said. They've learned the language from their Spanish-speaking wives, who were once pilgrims to the basilica.

Pergolizzi is not surprised.

"St. Peter's is the center of the world," he said, and the "sanpietrini" feel part of it. "They clean it, fix it, welcome guests to it and watch over it."

One worker, a 30-year veteran standing watch in the basilica's atrium, said that as the years pass, fewer and fewer people treat a visit to the basilica as a significant religious experience, but recently the crowds have been easier to handle.

Maybe, he said, the post-Sept. 11 security measures around the world have made people more willing to stand in line, have their bags searched and to be told there is somewhere they are not permitted to go.

The "sanpietrini" find some relief in that. Especially when, as Pergolizzi said, at least 10,000 people enter St. Peter's Basilica each day.


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