Following ISIS threats and the recent terrorist atrocity in Tunisia, a massive security operation is underway in the Italian city of Naples in preparation for Pope Francis’ visit to the city on Saturday.
Both Italian and Vatican security chiefs have been working flat out for the past month to ensure the Pope’s one-day visit to the city and a shrine at Pompeii passes without incident.
Three thousand security personnel, including police and firefighters, will be drafted in for the visit, many of whom will line a 16 mile route the Pope will take by car. They will also be patrolling the sea and skies around the Italian coastal city.
The high levels of security follow this week’s atrocity in Tunis, just 355 miles from Naples, when two Islamists from Libya attacked a museum resulting in the deaths of 23 people, including 20 tourists. Francis condemned the atrocity Thursday, calling it an “attack against peace and the sacredness of human life.”
As many as 3 million people are expected to turn out to see the Pope who will arrive from the Vatican by helicopter.
On arrival, he is to pray at Pompeii’s Marian shrine and greet families and the sick during his pastoral visit to Naples. He will also visit a prison and have lunch with inmates who will include AIDS sufferers and transgender detainees.
The Pope, who has made reaching out the poor a priority of his pontificate, will begin the Naples leg of his visit by visiting Scampia, an impoverished suburb. He is also expected to speak out against the Mafia in a city famous for its ties to organized crime.
The one-day visit, which takes part during Lent, therefore aims to be one of solidarity with the poor and afflicted, shunning the festive nature of some previous papal visits to the city.
This preference for sobriety resulted in Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples, reportedly having to shelve two major concerts he had helped to arrange to coincide with the visit. Italian media reports say the Vatican did not approve of the events, telling organizers they would have provided too much spectacle for a pastoral trip of Francis.
During his visit, the Pope will also venerate a relic of the city’s patron San Gennaro. Almost every year, the blood contained in two glass phials miraculously liquefies. When it doesn’t, locals believe disaster will strike the city, as it has on five previous occasions.
The miracle usually takes place on the anniversary of the martyrdom of San Gennaro in September 305 AD, but the Church says it can take place three times a year thanks to the devotion and prayers of the faithful.
This will be the Pope’s second visit to Italy’s Campania region in less than a year. St. John Paul II also visited Pompeii and Naples in October 1979 and October 2003. Benedict XVI visited the shrine at Pompeii in October 2008.