Sharp drop in attendance at Year of Mercy inauguration despite massive security measures
The opening of the Year of Mercy took place amid unprecedented security with 5,000 soldiers and police deployed around the city and special police units patrolling the River Tiber on jet skis and speed boats. The authorities even imposed a no-fly zone over Rome and warned that unauthorised aircraft and drones would be shot down if they were perceived to be a threat.
Initially 100,000 people were expected to attend the open-air inauguration Mass in the huge Renaissance piazza, but only around 40,000 people turned up. They may have been put off by the cold weather but the main reason was probably fear that the Vatican could be a target for Paris-style terrorist attacks. ISIS recently boasted in propaganda videos that it planned to plant its black flag on the dome of St Peter’s. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US also issued a warning that their intelligence indicated the Vatican was a potential target for Islamist terrorists.
Hoteliers and restaurants have reported a sharp drop in numbers of visitors to Rome compared to last year, especially foreign tourists. A survey this week found that nearly two million Italians had abandoned plans to travel to Rome to celebrate the Year of Mercy because of the fear of terrorist attacks. Only around 11 million Catholic pilgrims are now expected to visit the Vatican during the Year of Mercy, compared to the 25 million people who came during the last jubilee year in 2000.