WALL STREET JOURNAL - VATICAN CITY—The May 1 beatification of the late Pope John Paul II is an occasion for the Holy See to bask in the aura of a pontiff widely seen as a modern Catholic hero.
But a high-profile event involving another European institution, the House of Windsor, is stealing the Vatican's thunder. The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London on April 29, two days before the beatification ceremony, is dominating news coverage around the world, leaving less time for the late pope.
In January, when the Vatican set the date for the beatification, Cardinal Josť Saraiva Martins, former head of the Vatican's saint-making department, said he expected more than two million faithful to show up for the event. Based on that prediction, Vatican and Italian tour operators booked entire hotels in Rome and its surroundings.
But the royal wedding date had already been announced several months earlier, and by March, Vatican officials had begun to lower expectations. Behind closed doors, Vatican officials told city event planners in Rome to prepare for as few as 150,000 people and only a handful of dignitaries, according to one planner.
Now, Vatican planners sound less than confident.
"I have indeed noticed that the wedding is drawing a lot of attention," says Father Caesar Atuire, chief executive of Vatican pilgrims' organization Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, or ORP. "I wish these two young people all the best in life…but the events are on two different levels." Father Atuire notes that "there are still plenty of beds and rooms available all over the city."
The Vatican has been doing its best to make the beatification go viral, with a website, a Facebook page and Twitter account, and a digital communication service to promote the event via social networking. Vatican museums will stay open until late at night on the days before and after the ceremony, and volunteers will distribute snacks to those who plan to attend the three scheduled events—a vigil, the beatification ceremony itself and a Mass.
At a recent Vatican news conference, the Rev. Walter Insero, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rome, implored reporters to help drum up interest on Facebook and "invite your friends."
Despite the marketing efforts, TV networks aren't planning to pull out all the stops for John Paul II, as they once did, longtime Vatican observers say. "There won't be a lot of space to cover the beatification because all the attention is going to be on England." said Sabina Castelfranco, an Italy-based reporter with CBS Corp.'s CBS TV.
Msgr. Slawomir Oder, the church official who has advanced the case for the late pope's sainthood, bemoans the attention the royal wedding is getting. "In today's world, gossip makes more news and gathers more of an audience," he says.
It isn't the first time the Vatican has had to share the spotlight with the British royals.
In 2005, the world was riveted as a panoply of dignitaries and four million pilgrims flooded Rome for John Paul II's funeral. Chants of "Santo subito"—"Sainthood now"—rose from the crowd in St. Peter's Square, setting the Polish pope on the path to beatification, the last step before someone is declared a saint.
But days later, the media spotlight swung impiously to Buckingham Palace as Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles.
Fans of the pope are chafing over the Vatican's sense of timing, because the overlap had seemed avoidable.
The royals announced their wedding date in November, two months before the Vatican set its schedule.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow, who was John Paul II's private secretary, insisted the beatification should coincide with the May 1 Labor Day weekend, giving Poles enough time to travel to Rome, Msgr. Oder said. Now, Vatican officials are struggling with the consequences of their decision.
"I would have liked to attend both the events and I don't see how I will be able to do it" said Francesco Montorsi, a university researcher who lives in Rome and Paris and who attended John Paul II's funeral.
Pope's Beatification Vies With Royal Wedding for Public Eye - WSJ.com