Amidst the enthusiasm for the upcoming Jubilee year of 2016 proclaimed by Pope Francis, Cardinal Camillo Ruini has added a sobering note of caution. “Terrorism is the greatest threat looming over the Jubilee proclaimed by Pope Francis. You cannot ignore it after what has happened in Tunisia,” he said in an interview this weekend with the Italian daily La Repubblica.
Cardinal Ruini was the leader of the Italian Bishops Conference for some 20 years, as well as being the Cardinal Vicar of Rome and one of the closest collaborators of Pope John Paul II.
Ruini speaks now with the same determination with which on November 18, 2003, he delivered the homily at the funeral of Italian soldiers killed in the massacre of Nasiriyah, Iraq. Speaking of the “murderous terrorists,” he said, “We will not flee from them. Rather we will stand up to them with all the courage, energy, and determination that we are capable of.”
Now, says Ruini, the best way to react to the terrorist threat is by “taking all the necessary measures, without hesitation. You cannot ignore, for example, what happened in Tunis just last Thursday,” he said. “To ignore it would be dangerous,” he added, “so we need to do everything possible to avoid such a danger.”
The terror attack at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis last week killed twenty foreign tourists and three Tunisians. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda groups have claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Tunisian government has arrested over 20 suspected militants in the wake of the attack, about half of whom were directly involved in planning and executing the massacre.
ISIS militants have explicitly threatened Rome on several occasions, the most recent of which was in a video showing the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in February. “And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him,” says the militant leader after his comrades slaughtered the Christian hostages.
Between tourists and pilgrims, Roman authorities are expecting the arrival of more than 25 million people for the Jubilee year, which will begin on December 8, 2015. And to prevent the risk of attacks, authorities are preparing special surveillance units.
The Italian Ministry of the Interior will deploy a task force of thousands of agents, according to a statement by Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino. “I spoke again with the Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, after the announcement of the Jubilee,” Marino said, “and he confirmed the government’s intention to move about 5 thousand men now serving in Milan to Rome immediately after the closing of the Expo.”
The mayor added that “we will have an additional five thousand law enforcement agents who will remain to oversee the safety of the many tourists, pilgrims, and Romans that will be here during the Jubilee year.”
Another security risk to Rome is the large number of unregistered accommodations in the capital, according to Giuseppe Roscioli, the president of the Federation of Italian Associations of Hotels and Tourism, or “Federalberghi.” “After the tragic events in Tunis, it is clear that, with the upcoming Jubilee year, it is necessary to strengthen controls over abusive lodging,” he said.
“It is in fact foreseeable that Rome’s current 25,000 beds tied to irregular accommodations offered on the Internet could be at least doubled for the Jubilee,” he said. “Rome would thus be exposed to an uncontrolled tourism that could reach 50,000 unregistered visitors a day,” Roscioli warned.
Over the weekend, the mayor met at City Hall with Archbishop Rino Fisichella, appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the organization of the Holy Year. The two discussed the organizational machine to be deployed in the capital for the Holy Year.
The Lazio Regional government will also be playing a role in providing infrastructure for the celebrations. “As of December 8, Rome will be the heart of the world,” said the regional president, Nicola Zingaretti, “and we will have an incredible influx of pilgrims.”
The president said that preparations are underway to bolster the staff and logistical facilities. “We want the pilgrims and tourists who come to Rome next year to find a warm welcome,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.