VATICAN CITY The Vatican urged the faithful on Tuesday not to let reports of huge crowds or unscrupulous hoteliers deter them from coming to Rome for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul on May 1.
"I invite everyone to come. Rome is ready. Don't be afraid of coming or of inviting people," said Father Caesar Atuire.
The Vatican has begun the countdown to what will be the biggest event in the Italian capital since the death of the charismatic and highly popular pope in 2005, when millions of people came to view his body or attend his funeral.
Vatican officials expect at least 300,000 people -- including tens of thousands from his native Poland -- to come to Rome for the three days of events during which he will be declared a "blessed," the last step before sainthood.
The Vatican has already warned the faithful to beware of fraudsters, particularly on the Internet, who are selling tickets to the beatification ceremony. No tickets will be necessary for any of the ceremonies.
The star of the Rome events will be Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a 49-year-old French nun who is said to have been miraculously cured of Parkinson's disease months after John Paul's death after she and fellow nuns prayed to him.
Vatican officials told a news conference that they had stipulated an "ethical pact" with the Rome hoteliers association in which members promised not to jack up prices for the period of the events, when rooms are expected to be scarce.
There have been numerous media reports of skyrocketing prices, particularly in hotels in Rome's historic center or in the Vatican area on the other side of the Tiber River.
Officials said the crowd would be marshaled by police and hundreds of volunteers. Giant television screens will be placed around Rome, 14 of them alone on Via della Conciliazione, the boulevard leading from the Tiber to St Peter's Square.
THREE DAYS OF EVENTS
The three days of events begin on the evening of April 30 when a massive prayer vigil expected to attract several hundred thousand people will be held in Rome's Circus Maximus oval, where the ancient Romans held horse and chariot races.
Several of the late pope's closest collaborators, including his long-time secretary Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz and his spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, will address the crowd.
John Paul's wooden coffin will be exhumed from its current place in the crypts below St Peter's Basilica.
After the beatification mass in St Peter's Square on May 1, it will covered with a white drape and placed before the main altar in St Peter's Basilica and remain there for viewing and veneration non-stop until everyone who wants to can see it.
Pope Benedict will preside at the beatification Mass on May 1 and his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will preside at a "Mass of Thanksgiving in the square on May 2.
To be beatified, a dead person must be declared by the Church to have interceded with God to perform a miracle that is otherwise inexplicable by medicine.
For John Paul to become a saint, the Church would have to declare that a second miracle had occurred after beatification.
Crowds at John Paul's funeral on April 8, 2005 chanted "Santo subito!" ("Make him a saint right now!")
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)