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VATICAN LETTER Aug-15-2013 (710 words) Backgrounder. With photos. xxxi

Castel Gandolfo: Town struggling to overcome total pope-dependency

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- While the shores of Lake Albano are speckled with swimmers and sunbathers, the historic center of Castel Gandolfo has been quiet this summer -- too quiet for many.

The residents of the small town -- current population 8,782 -- have been hosting popes since 1626. The last year a pontiff did not spend at least one summer month in the town was 1945, when Pope Pius XII opened the papal villa and gardens to those fleeing the nearby fighting between the Germans and the Allies.

But Pope Francis, whose constant activity has kept the Vatican busy even in the normally sleepy month of August, has made only two one-day visits this summer: July 14 for the recitation of the Angelus and Aug. 15 for the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

"He's saving money," said Franco Lestini, a retired Vatican employee in his 70s who has lived since 1964 in the town 13 miles south of Rome.

"Some of the old people," he said, nodding toward a gray-haired friend about the same age, "are bothered by all the confusion when the pope is here, so they don't mind that he's not. But the shopkeepers are very unhappy."

Milvia Monachesi, the town mayor, said it is much too soon to have any statistics on the economic impact of a virtually popeless summer on the place Blessed John Paul II used to call "the second Vatican."

"There has been an obvious decline in religious tourism," she said, "but the town is working hard to increase all types of tourism year round and it's starting to bear fruit."

"We hope the pope will come next year," Monachesi said. "We can't force him to come, but neither should we rely only on him."

Salesian Father Pietro Diletti, pastor of the parish on the main square, said tourists still come to the town, though not "seas of people like when the pope is here."

The residents "are used to having a pope here as a co-citizen; that was beautiful," he said. "But I'm sure Pope Francis will come next year."

Stefano Carosi, who owns and serves coffee at Bar Carosi on the main square, said it is sad not to have the pope in town, and his business is down without the attendant Swiss Guards, Vatican police, Italian state police, papal aides and pilgrims.

"I wouldn't pretend that the financial crisis here is just because the pope isn't here, but obviously without him, its effects are greater," Carosi said.

But one of the town's best-known residents said that, for him and his 55 employees, this summer has been business as usual.

Saverio Petrillo, director of the pontifical villas at Castel Gandolfo, said his crew is "operating at our normal, efficient level -- we're ready to welcome the pope whenever he wants to come."

The director pointed out that the papal property at Castel Gandolfo covers 55 hectares (almost 136 acres), which is more territory than Vatican City, which is 44 hectares (108 acres). He oversees the papal summer residence, the summer residence of the Vatican secretary of state, extensive formal gardens, woodland, a farm, a dairy and beehives.

No one lost a job because the pope decided not to spend the summer, he said.

Anna Maria Vici Torrigiani, an artist who said she was "born in Argentina to Italian parents, just like Pope Francis," opened a shop in Castel Gandolfo in 2002 to sell her paintings and other religious art.

"The pope can't be our only source of income," she said. "We have to earn our own way."

Besides, she said, "it is irresponsible to rely on three months of work to live the whole year."

Still, she said wistfully, "it's a pleasure to see the doors of the villa open with the Swiss Guards at attention on either side. It's part of the atmosphere of Castel Gandolfo."

While Vici Torrigiani talked about the townspeople being responsible for their financial security, she -- like many of her neighbors -- indicated her patience with a non-vacationing pope might not last forever.

"Obviously, it is amazing to be the center of the Catholic world for three months each summer," she said, "but we can be flexible this year."


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