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Pope Francis sparks Vatican shopping boom

The shopkeeper of a souvenir shop by the Vatican is too busy talk. The Local has approached him on one of the busiest days of the week, Wednesday, when thousands flock to Saint Peter’s Square for an audience with the Pope.

Pope Francis sparks Vatican shopping boom
Photo: The Local

“Come back tomorrow,” he said, before dealing with an inquiry from a customer about a pendant with a photo of the newly installed Pope Francis.

The number of people visiting the Vatican on Wednesdays and Sundays has swelled since Pope Francis arrived in March.

A worker in a nearby hotel said at least 50,000 people descend on the area on each of the days, in anticipation of a glimpse of, or blessing from, Pope Francis. He added that the new Pope is far more popular than the previous one, Benedict XVI, who attracted a smaller crowd. The hotel is full every night of the week.

Laura Fada, who runs a restaurant nearby, made the sign of the cross as she said “we are very grateful for Pope Francis. He “has charisma,” and “he feels like one of us,” she added.

Her restaurant has seen a surge in customers since March. However, while business is much better, people are still watching their pennies.

“They go for the 10 euro offer,” she says as she points to a menu detailing the starter, main and drink deal. “So they don’t spend too much. But we work much harder, especially on Wednesday and Sunday.”

The uptick, however, has not reached retailers further down the Via della Concillazione, the road that leads up to the Vatican.

Magda, who works in a gift shop, said business is much the same as before, although she has noticed a small rise in the sale of rosary beads.

“There might be more people coming into the shop, but they’re not spending much,” she added.

Her sentiment was echoed by Marco, a sales assistant in a clothes shop further along the road.

“Everyone loves Pope Francis and come here to see him, not to shop,” he said.

Cecilia Tordini, who works in a shoe shop, said the rise in the number of people visiting the area since March was akin to a ‘waterfall’.

“Everyone loves this Pope,” she says.

“He’s not just attracting people from abroad; I’ve noticed more people from other parts of Italy coming here. But the businesses that really benefit are the hotels and restaurants. People are here to see the Pope, and after that only care about eating and sleeping.”

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POPE FRANCIS

Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash

Pope Francis met with the anti-migration Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban behind closed doors on Sunday at the start of a brief visit to Budapest where he will also celebrate a mass. 

Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash
The Pope embarked on September 12 on his 34th international trip for a one-day visit to Hungary for an international Catholic event and a meeting with the country's populist leader, and a three-day visit to Slovakia. Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

The head of 1.3 billion Catholics — in Hungary to close the International Eucharistic Congress — met Orban, accompanied by Hungarian President Janos Ader, in Budapest’s grand Fine Arts Museum.

The Vatican television channel showed the pope entering the museum, but did not show images of the two men meeting, but Orban posted a photo of the two shaking hands on his Facebook page.

On one hand, Orban is a self-styled defender of “Christian Europe” from migration. On the other, Pope Francis urges help for the marginalised and those of all religions fleeing war and poverty.

But the pope’s approach to meet those who don’t share his worldview, eminently Christian according to the pontiff, has often been met with incomprehension among the faithful, particularly within the ranks of traditionalist Catholics.

Over the last few years, there has been no love lost between Orban supporters in Hungary and the leader of the Catholic world.

Pro-Orban media and political figures have launched barbs at the pontiff calling him “anti-Christian” for his pro-refugee sentiments, and the “Soros Pope”, a reference to the Hungarian-born liberal US billionaire George Soros, a right-wing bete-noire.

‘Not here for politics’

From early Sunday, groups of pilgrims from around the country, some carrying signs with their hometowns written on them, were filing under tight security toward the vast Heroes’ Square in Budapest, where the pontiff will say mass to close the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

“We are not here for any politics, but to see and hear the pope, the head of the Church. We can hardly wait to see him. It is wonderful that he is visiting Budapest,” Eva Mandoki, 82, from Eger, some 110 kilometres (70 miles) east of the capital, told AFP.

Eyebrows have also been raised over the pontiff’s whirlwind visit.

His seven-hour-long stay in 9.8-million-population Hungary will be followed immediately by an official visit to smaller neighbour Slovakia of more than two days.

“Pope Francis wants to humiliate Hungary by only staying a few hours,” said a pro-Orban television pundit.

Born Jorge Bergoglio to a family of Italian emigrants to Argentina, the pope regularly reminds “old Europe” of its past, built on waves of new arrivals.

And without ever naming political leaders he castigates “sovereigntists” who turn their backs on refugees with what he has called “speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934”.

In April 2016, the pope said “We are all migrants!” on the Greek island of Lesbos, gateway to Europe, bringing on board his plane three Syrian Muslim families whose homes had been bombed.

‘Hungary Helps’

In contrast, Orban’s signature crusade against migration has included border fences and detention camps for asylum-seekers and provoked growing ire in Brussels.

Orban’s supporters point instead to state-funded aid agency “Hungary Helps” which works to rebuild churches and schools in war-torn Syria, and sends doctors to Africa.

Orban’s critics, however, accuse him of using Christianity as a shield to deflect criticism and a sword to attack opponents while targeting vulnerable minorities like migrants.

Days before the pope’s arrival posters appeared on the streets of the Hungarian capital — where the city council is controlled by the anti-Orban opposition — reading “Budapest welcomes the Holy Father” and showing his quotes including pleas for solidarity and tolerance towards minorities.

During the pope’s stay in Budapest he will also meet the country’s bishops, and representatives of various Christian congregations, as well as leaders of the 100,000-strong Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in Central Europe.

Orban — who is of Calvinist Protestant background — and his wife — who is a Catholic — are to attend the mass later Sunday.

Around 75,000 people have registered to attend the event, with screens and

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