Residents of the town that is home to the Pope’s summer residence say they are happy Pope Benedict is returning to live there.
“When the Pope arrives he will find his apartment the same as always, but also the affection and devotion of everyone here,” Saverio Petrillo, director of the pontifical villas in Castel Gandolfo, told CNA Feb. 20.
Pope Benedict will officially end his ministry at 8:00 p.m. on Feb. 28, but at 5:00 p.m. he will leave the Vatican by helicopter and travel to Castel Gandolfo. When he arrives he will be greeted by the mayor, the pastor of the local parish and town residents. He will also offer a short greeting from the window of his residence.
Popes spend part of the summer in the town of 9,000 residents, which is located 18 miles southeast of Rome and looks over Lake Albano.
This will be the first time the building is used by someone who is not the Pope.
Pope Benedict will live there for at least two months before moving to Mater Ecclesiae monastery inside the Vatican, which is currently being refurbished.
Petrillo explained that Pope Benedict will be living in the same room that he has used the past eight summers.
The audience hall on the top floor, which is in a separate wing of the Pope’s apartment, is currently being restored.
According to the director, his flat includes a chapel, a bedroom and a dining room and “has the right dimensions” to accommodate the Pope, his secretaries and the staff that helps run the household.
“This is like all flats that just needs a bit of dusting, so there is nothing extraordinary being done now in preparation for his coming,” said the director of the pontifical villas.
Petrillo said that he is “in a state of confusion like everybody else because we have before us an unforeseen historical moment.”
“I’ve been working for the Vatican for a long time, since the papacy of Pius XII, but clearly I would have never imagined such a thing,” said Petrillo.
The pontifical villas occupy 136 acres, of which 74 make up a garden and 62 are used for farming.
Locals told CNA they are looking forward to having Pope Benedict stay with them during Easter, although there was a mixed reaction to his resignation.
“We are happy, although this is a very difficult situation,” said an elderly man sitting outside a coffee shop on the square outside the papal residence.
“I’m a practicing Catholic and his resigning has displeased me because to reach this point there are many things that the cardinals needed to fix and it will be very hard,” he added.
Another man said he was also happy his town will be hosting Pope Benedict.
The Pope has stayed in Castel Gandolfo for the past eight summers, which this Italian described as “full of a beautiful presence.”
“The step he has taken is important with everything that’s happening nowadays in society because he’s been more attached to problems than the previous Pope and he had a different sensitivity,” said the man in his mid-thirties.
“He will bring the most important presence we can have with us, and I hope others here will also be happy with this gift,” he added.
A coffee shop owner in the Piazza della Libertà said it is “a unique world privilege” for the town whenever Pope Benedict arrives and that it will greatly benefit local business.
“It’s a privilege because he could have simply returned to his hometown in Bavaria, but he chose to come here,” he said.
“There will probably be more movement here because he’s always an attraction and it’s an important event for all of us whenever he comes here,” he noted.
One local shopkeeper said locals are “Pope Benedict’s fans” and the eight summers he has spent here have been “a very positive experience” for him.
“It’s helped us, not only for our businesses, but also spiritually. And we’re very accustomed to his presence and he’s very accustomed to ours,” he said.
“We also hope he’s not always indoors and that we see him outside every now and then,” he added.