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The Jubilee is coming! The tourists are coming!

Gayle Young

By Gayle Young
CNN Rome Bureau Chief

December 22, 1999
Web posted at: 10:21 a.m. EST (1521 GMT)

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

musings at the millennium

ROME (CNN) -- On Christmas Eve, Pope John Paul II will take a special hammer and symbolically crack open a massive door in St. Peter's Basilica that is used only during special holy years. With that, the Roman Catholic Church's Jubilee Year begins.

Pope's vision of heaven on Earth

The year 2000 is special indeed. The second millennium anniversary of the observed date of Jesus' birth is expected to draw an estimated 30 million pilgrims to Rome.

Roman Catholics the world over are looking forward to the Jubilee. But many Romans, despite being Catholics themselves, are dreading the related inconveniences.

Residents worry the city's notorious traffic will become impossible. Merchants worry most visitors will be budget travelers on church-sponsored trips, unlikely to splurge on worldly goods.

The city and the Vatican combined have launched more than 400 public works projects to prepare for the pilgrims. The facade of St. Peter's has been blasted clean, roads have been rerouted, and historic piazzas have been ripped up to be relaid with cobblestones.

But with just days to go, about half the projects remain unfinished. Among the most visible sources of tension between the city and the Vatican: a six-level underground parking garage.

The Vatican built it on its own sovereign land within Rome and says archaeologists supervised the work. But this month, city officials discovered rubble with evidence of ancient Roman ruins in the Vatican dump.

more musings

Construction of a garage ramp, on city-owned land, was halted when workers dug up more remains -- this time of the Emperor Nero's riverside villa. Conservationists say the church is pressuring the city to move or destroy the villa and finish the ramp as quickly as possible.

Meantime, the clock ticks down to the Jubilee. And millions of guests are coming, whether Rome is ready or not.

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