St. Peter's Square resounded yesterday to loudspeakers relaying the pope's Easter message delivered in a frail voice. Despite frequent health scares, he made his annual address in 61 languages. He is a month shy of his 81st birthday.
Unknown to many of the pilgrims present, several of the apartments and hotel rooms around the square have been secured by broadcasters since fears of the pope's impending death first arose in 1993. The deals are kept secret to avoid accusations of bad taste.
Competitive campaigns for the best camera spots have been waged behind the scenes lest the Vatican be offended, even though the pope has joked about the media's obsession with his demise. Prices rise every month for those who neglected to arrange fixed rents, said a former BBC staffer. Most of the apartments remain empty, visited occasionally by technicians.
One estate agent in Prati, a select district that rings the Vatican, said some landlords had doubled their rents in the past year. "Time is on their side," she added.
More than 5,000 journalists and crew are expected to fly into Rome for the pope's eventual funeral and succession process, which are expected to last around a month. White smoke from a chimney above the Sistine Chapel will signify habemus papam, the election of a new pope.
The U.S. network CBS beat Japanese, French and German rival bidders to first prize: the 5,000-square-foot roof terrace of the Atlante Star hotel, from where Polish nuns can be seen moving in the papal apartment.
The network will pay a flat fee of $180,000 (£112,000) just for the terrace, said its owner Benito Mencucci.
"I try not to be superstitious. Preparing for the pope's death doesn't change anything. We all must die someday," he said.
CNN was left to find another vantage point, which it will not reveal. The television news agency APTV will work from the modest Adriatic hotel.
The BBC has persuaded residents of an apartment block on Borgo Pio, a stone's throw from St. Peter's, to rent out their terrace for less than £8,000 a month when the time comes.
The pope has the trembling and paralysis associated with Parkinson's disease. For the first time he walked and carried a cross for only a small part of the Good Friday ceremony at the Colosseum. Yet during the Easter message he cheered a crowd of 100,000 with belief in a better world. "Men and women of the third millennium, the Easter gift of light that scatters the darkness of fear and sadness is meant for everyone.
"Rediscover with joy and wonder that the world is no longer a slave to the inevitable. This world of ours can change: Peace is possible even where for too long there has been fighting and death."
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