Italy urges pilgrims to avoid Rome city centre for Pope funeral

Thursday, April 7, 2005

St. Peter's Basilica Facade, Rome, June 2004. Wikicommons File photo

As many as four million pilgrims are expected to flock to Rome for the Pope's funeral Friday. Italian authorities have in response urged visitors to avoid entering the centre of Rome and instead use a special camp open on the outskirts of the city. Already one million people have arrived to see the Pope John Paul II's body lying in state and officials have said that it will be impossible for visitors arriving now to witness the funeral first hand.

"The city centre cannot take the arrival of any more faithful," Guido Bertolaso, head of crowd control for the funeral, said today. He added: "Anyone arriving tonight or tomorrow will have no possibility of following the funeral at St. Peter's."

Pilgrims getting on the train at railroad station in Krakow, Poland (6.04.2005, 15:59 UTC)

The city of Rome, which is normally home to three million inhabitants, is said to now be focusing its efforts on tightening its security ahead of Friday's event. The 200 foreign delegates expected to be present at the funeral are said to be an attractive terrorist target, resulting in the closure of Italy's air space over Rome during the day, sources have claimed.

Speaking to the Associated Press, an official of the Rome prefect's office, which is responsible for coordinating the city's security said: "Precautions have been taken for airports, stations and all the other places where people gather." Authorities have also increased the number of law enforcement officers in the city centre for the occasion.