Vatican decries travel agents seeking ticket fee

The Vatican complained on Friday that some travel agents are asking faithful to shell out a "service" fee for procuring places for the beatification of Pope John Paul II when no tickets or invitations are needed for the May 1 ceremony in St. Peter's Square.

The Vatican lamented that there have been "unauthorized offers by some tour operators, especially on Internet, of assistance in procuring tickets, with a service charge."

"For the beatification Mass of Pope John Paul II, as made clear from the outset, no tickets are required," it said in a statement.

It noted that when other public ceremonies, unrelated to the beatification, are held at the Vatican, tickets are required but that they are "always issued free of charge and no person or organization can request any kind of payment."

The Vatican also disclosed details of the program for those wanting to participate in beatification events, including a prayer vigil the night of April 30 in Circus Maximus, a sprawling, grassy field in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine Hills where ancient Romans cheered on charioteers.

If all 2 million pilgrims come — as some authorities are predicting — they won't be able to fit in St. Peter's Square for the beatification led by Pope Benedict XVI. Many faithful will spill over into adjacent spaces, where large video screens are expected to be set up for viewing the ceremony. While tickets won't be necessary, police will keep an eye on the crowds, the Vatican said.

No matter how many pilgrims arrive, all will have a chance to file past John Paul's remains, which will be placed inside St. Peter's Basilica immediately after he is beatified, the Vatican said.

The remains of the Polish pontiff, who died at age 84 after suffering from Parkinson's disease for years, are entombed in the grotto underneath St. Peter's Basilica.

But for the beatification, the marble slab covering the coffin will be removed, and the closed coffin brought up to the basilica level so the faithful can file by, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. After that, the coffin will be interred, behind another slab, but this time in a side chapel of the basilica, as previously announced.

Faithful will also have the opportunity to attend a Mass of thanksgiving, celebrated by the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in the square on the morning of May 2.

Last month, Benedict declared that a French nun's recovery from Parkinson's disease was the miracle needed for the beatification of his predecessor, who died in 2005 after leading the Roman Catholic church for more than 26 years.