Castel Gandolfo seeks to cope without pope

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the feast of the Assumption of Mary in the main square of Castel Gandolfo, during one of only two trips he has made to the small town in the hills near Rome this summer.

CNS PHOTO | GIAMPIERO SPOSITO, REUTERS

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the feast of the Assumption of Mary in the main square of Castel Gandolfo, during one of only two trips he has made to the small town in the hills near Rome this summer.

September 2, 2013

While the shores of Lake Albano are speckled with swimmers and sunbathers, the historic centre of Castel Gandolfo has been quiet this summer – too quiet for many. The residents of the small town – current population 8,782 – have been hosting popes since 1626.

The last year a pontiff did not spend at least one summer month in the town was 1945, when Pope Pius XII opened the papal villa and gardens to those fleeing the nearby fighting between the Germans and the Allies.

But Pope Francis, whose constant activity has kept the Vatican busy even in the normally sleepy month of August, has made only two one-day visits this summer.

"Some of the old people," said Franco Lestini, a retired Vatican employee in his 70s who has lived since 1964 in the town 20 km south of Rome, nodding toward a grey-haired friend about the same age, "are bothered by all the confusion when the pope is here, so they don't mind that he's not.

But the shopkeepers are very unhappy."