VATICAN CITY (AP) — Not even the Vatican is immune from the economic crisis.
For the first time, the Vatican is seeking funds directly from pilgrims, collectors and tourists to pay for the ambitious restoration of the 17th century Bernini colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square.
The Vatican's Philatelic and Numismatic Office, which sells commemorative coins and stamps featuring popes, saints and the like, is offering a special €20 ($26) stamp and certificate package to help offset a recession-induced drop in corporate sponsors for the project.
The office's director, Mauro Olivieri, said Vatican officials were asked earlier this year to think up fundraising initiatives to help finance the restoration.
The series is composed of two €10 ($13) stamps affixed to a certificate, one featuring Pope Benedict XVI's coat of arms and the other the seal of Pope Alexander VII, who entrusted the Italian Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini with the colonnade in 1657.
If the full 150,000 print run is sold, some €3 million ($3.9 million) could be funneled toward the restoration, Olivieri said. "That's our hope. We'll see what happens."
The Vatican launched the restoration in 2009, aiming to secure and clean the colonnade's 284 columns, which embrace the square in a dual inner and outer row, and the 140 statues that surround and top them. Also being restored are the piazza's central obelisk and two fountains.
The Vatican initially estimated it would take four years. The job is now not slated to be finished before 2015 and Olivieri said the cost is estimated at €14 million ($18 million).
The restoration work involved securing facade pieces at risk of falling and then removing algae, lichen and moss that have grown on the travertine over the years. The work has been carried out in sections, allowing the piazza to be used continuously throughout the restoration.
Vatican's Office Philatelic and Numismatic Office is at
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