Rome is "ready, very ready" for the canonization of former Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, the Eternal City's mayor, Ignazio Marino said this week.
But in truth no one really knows how Rome will cope with what some predict will be the largest crowds the city has ever seen.
The interior ministry expects the April 27 double canonization, presided by Pope Francis in St Peter's Square, to draw 800,000 pilgrims from all over the world, but others predict far higher numbers, possibly as many as 7 million.
An enormous contingent of pilgrims from John Paul II's native Poland is expected, as well as significant numbers from the Lombardy region of northern Italy, the birthplace of John XXIII.
The Vatican says 19 heads of State will be attending as well as 24 prime ministers from 61 official delegations, representing 54 countries. Tickets are not required but seats will be difficult or near impossible to find and many are expected to camp out overnight to obtain the best places.
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City authorities are visibly in full swing, already cordoning off major streets such as the Fori Imperiali that leads up to the Colosseum, repainting road markings and erecting 14 large screens in key areas all across the city.
Traffic is also starting to build, clogging key roads in the city, while Rome's many hotels prepare for one of their best business weekends in years. Most rooms are sold out, and at least one hotel near the Vatican is charging as much as 700 Euros a night.
But despite the logistical challenges, Rome is well practiced in hosting such enormous events and tends to manage them well. Thousands of volunteers will join the protezione civile – Italy's main body dealing with the management of exceptional events.
Security will also be tight: Italy's interior minister has said 2,430 police units will be assigned to carry out checks and patrol sensitive targets.
Canonizations for the Catholic Church are always great festive occasions and the fact that so many have memories of both popes, particularly of John Paul II, makes this event especially unique. Countless interviews have been released in recent weeks with close friends and associates of the two popes, each offering testimony to their personal holiness.
"Good Pope John," as he became known, is best remembered for convening the Second Vatican Council that opened the Catholic Church up to the world to better engage with it. He is also praised for his landmark encyclical, Pacem in Terris, which laid out the Church's vision for world peace in the nuclear age.
"Every chapter of the encyclical starts with a statement dealing with an aspiration of men … to peace, to freedom, to dignity," said Cardinal Paul Poupard who worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State during Pope John's papacy, in an interview this week.
John XXIII was a man of simple holiness who strove to bring peace and unity to the Church and to the world, but he was not a simple man.
"He has certainly been a complex figure, much more complex than the cliché of the "good pope"," said Marco Roncalli, his great-nephew. "His path in life was complex, rich and spiritual, like the example he gave through his Christian virtues, delineated in the history of mankind."
Reasons for John Paul II's canonization are better known.
The Polish Pope, who many credit for helping to end Soviet communism, was a man of deep prayer and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Examples of his holiness and concern for others are many, and people were so convinced of his personal sanctity that they chanted "Santo Subito!" – "Saint Now!" – at his funeral.
Two miracles have been attributed to his intercession: a French nun cured of Parkinson's disease soon after his death, and a Costa Rican woman who was healed of a brain aneurysm.
And yet despite the great adulation for these two Successors of St. Peter, not everyone is happy. Although it's normal for two or more candidates to be canonized on the same day, many Poles would have preferred a separate canonization for John Paul, believing he deserves such singular attention.
Fans of John XXIII, meanwhile, lament that he's often playing second fiddle to his better known and arguably more popular successor.
The double canonization has led to organizational headaches for the Vatican and few events are planned around the ceremony. But more significantly, there are those who have strong reservations about the Second Vatican Council, saying it was an imprudent move given the state of the world at the time, the misinterpretations of the Council teachings, and the precipitous fall in Church attendance, vocations, and a general weakening of ecclesial authority that followed.
John convened the Council; John Paul was its leading proponent, and many have noted the speed at which they will be made saints – a process that can often take centuries.
Furthermore, the fact that Pope Francis waived the need for a second miracle for John XXIII has led some critics to accuse the Vatican of simply wishing to "canonize the Council."
But the majority of Catholics see this event differently. To them, it's a means of holding up to the world the lives of two men whose outstanding personal holiness and close relationship with God shine like a beacon in a world where a "culture of death" – a term coined by John Paul II – has taken hold.
The light and example of these popes is sorely needed, they argue, in an age when Christ is being increasingly rejected or ignored and secularism is on the rise.
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Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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