By I. Mizuh on special report in Rome
Pope Francis recently celebrated his first Easter Sunday at the St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Rome but millions of low-income earning Italians and foreigners are now looking up to him to salvage the country’s struggling economy marred by continuous political quagmire.
Since taking over from Benedict XVI who resigned last February, Pope Francis’s simplistic, down-to-earth lifestyle has helped to bring a drastic rise in the number of tourists as well as pilgrims to the Vatican. In a chat with a Pizza shop owner just opposite the St Peter’s Square, I discovered that with more people coming in to visit than before, more businesses and jobs have been suddenly created to match up this streaming numbers of people heading each day to the Vatican.
However, the general hardship hitting the economy of Italy just like that of the ancient city of Roma is glaring even to first-time visitors. In any modern restaurant in Europe or in a developed country, customers are often spoiled with choices of where to sit and relax and probably have a meal or drink. In Rome, the customer is rather cornered or beckoned to eat at a particular restaurant. Whether the food tastes good, the surrounding is comfy or not that is only an afterthought.
If a customer is regretting after to have been conned to pick the wrong restaurant or dish, the next nuisance to tackle is that of street hawkers forcing one to buy Italian designer’s bags or other accessories. These and more are just microcosm of what the Italian society has become of in these days. Jobs are hard to find, foreigners, especially Africans have to hang out at train station to sleep, and the general living condition are becoming insupportable.
Having a pope at the Vatican who can side with the majority of the poor is just a magnificent miracle, one resident proudly told me. From the very first day, 13 March when Papa Francesco was voted to replace Pope Benedict said to have been living in a different world to that of his people, the local population in Rome went wild in celebration. With transport made free for anyone heading to the Vatican, Pope Francis had eventually become the messiah Italians have been ardently praying and waiting for in years. As the unemployment rate in the Euro-zone has moved into double figures, Italians are also feeling the heat and now rely exceedingly on their tourism industry to make end meets.
Pope Francis’s special strength
Being a Jesuit, Pope Francis has started his papacy leading by examples. He has refused to live in the luxurious apartment or house reserved for popes and has opted to make his home in a modest house inside the Vatican. By taking such a decision as the head of the church, Pope Francis is seen to have maintained his roots to remain poor while staying in contact and within the reach of the people.
“Pope Francis has a very simply attitude, which I believe connects him easily to the people,” said Vincent, a local resident.
“We believe the Pope is going to make more tourists come here and also to bring in more money to help our bad financial situation.”
Although Roma is the host city of the headquarters of the Rome Catholic Church, the influences of Pope Francis is expected to stretch all through Italy touching all major cities. With the Italian capital now being the spotlight, especially with the new pope and boom in business, people who cannot find jobs in other towns are heading there, although getting accommodation is another trouble. On a trip from Rome to Pisa by train, one could barely have a place to sit or an inch to stretch legs from cramp as passengers had filled any available space from corridors to toilets. The train that was delayed for 15 minutes, as passengers scrambled to get in without letting those in out, was jammed pack with workers returning from Rome to celebrate the Easter break. However, as the train, the cheapest category for this route stopped at every station, room was created for others to complete the four- hour voyage.
Italy bears the brunt
With Italy located at the crossroad between Europe and Africa, and also Europe and the Middle East the influx of immigrants to the country is alarming. African immigrants, especially those from Sub-Sahara Africa are crossing into Italy in their numbers to look for a better life. With language barrier being a big bug to break, most of them are finding it really hard to grab jobs when they are available. In order to become self-employ others are now hawking even though the Italian police is at war with this illicit trade where taxes are not paid. If the men have become street hawkers, the women, especially Nigerians are offering prostitution at various hotpots.
While Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union, EU, in 2007, masses of immigrants from these two countries are heading to Italy. Although the Italian government is battling to accommodate these huge numbers, the greatest headache is to keep them in these accommodations and off the streets. Some of these new EU citizens – used to living a nomadic life and barely stay at one spot – prefer to beg at roadsides and junctions without remorse.
As the political stalemate in Italy carries on for ages, the financial status of many people is far from becoming better. Italians as well as most jobless immigrants are all hoping that Pope Francis can encourage leaders of the disputing political parties to reach an accord and form a new government that can solve some of the problems facing the country in addition to the endemic economic downturn.