|A McDonald's sign is seen at Via della Conciliazione street in Rome, Italy in front of Vatican City's St. Peter's Square Jan. 3, 2017. (Reuters)|
There was no fanfare for the Dec. 30 opening of the U.S. fast food giant's new venue behind a subdued exterior on the picturesque Borgo Pio, just outside the spiritual home of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
When the plan emerged last year, one of its most strident critics was Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, who said McDonald's fare was far removed from Roman gastronomic traditions and not the healthiest of foods.
"The mega sandwich shop on Borgo Pio is a disgrace," Sgreccia told La Repubblica newspaper at the time.
"It would be better to use those spaces to help the needy of the area, spaces for hospitality, shelter and help for those who suffer, as the Holy Father teaches," Sgreccia said.
Despite the holy outrage in some quarters, two nuns were spotted on Tuesday lunchtime going inside the fast food joint.
In a statement, McDonald's emphasised that the new restaurant was in a popular tourist area outside the Vatican, although the building itself is Holy See property.
"As is the case whenever McDonald's operates near historic sites anywhere in Italy, this restaurant has been fully adapted with respect to the historical environment," the company said.
Some local business owners had written to Pope Francis to ask him to keep the chain out, for fear it would upset the artistic, culture and social identity of the neighbourhood.
In the letter, consumer group Codacons and a committee set up to protect Borgo Pio said the area, full of restaurants and shops selling religious articles, was already "saturated" and bringing in more tourists could be a security risk.
But some people who frequent the area welcomed the new arrival, including Raffaella Scarano, an Italian woman who works nearby.
"Anything that is good for the economy of our country is fine by me," she said.
Cities across Italy have been turning up the heat on fast food restaurants. McDonald's filed a $20 million lawsuit against Florence after the mayor of the Renaissance city turned down an application to open one of its restaurants there.
Cardinal Calls It a ‘Disgrace,’ but a McDonald’s Opens Near the Vatican
Over the objections of senior Roman Catholic leaders and some area residents, a McDonald’s opened last week just outside Vatican City, within eyeshot of St. Peter’s Square.
The fast-food chain’s plan to open a restaurant in a Vatican-owned building was met with derision when it was announced in October.
The restaurant, at the corner of Borgo Pio and Via del Mascherino, is in the Roman district of Borgo, which leads to Vatican City. According to The Guardian, the Committee for the Protection of Borgo, a group of residents, called it a “decisive blow on an already wounded animal,” referring to the trinket-hawking vendors already proliferating in the area.
In an interview with La Repubblica in October, Cardinal Elio Sgreccia called the restaurant’s arrival a “disgrace,” and said the space should have been used to help the needy.
He said the addition of the restaurant clashed with the aesthetics of the area, and was “not at all respectful of the architectural and urban traditions of one of the most characteristic squares overlooking the colonnade of St. Peter.”
And then there is the matter of the food itself, which does “not offer guarantees for the health of the consumers, foods I would never eat,” added the cardinal, who retired as the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. “It’s a business decision that ignores the culinary tradition of Roman cuisine,” he said.
Despite the complaints, the Vatican agency that oversees its real estate holdings approved a lease, and the restaurant quietly opened last week without public protests.
The Vatican will get about 30,000 euros, or about $31,375.50, per month in rent, La Repubblica reported.
Vatican officials also approved the addition of a Hard Rock Cafe on Via della Conciliazione, the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square. It would replace a religious bookstore.
It is not the first time McDonald’s has had difficulty moving into a venerable area. The restaurant chain sued the City of Florence, Italy, for $20 million in November after leaders there blocked efforts to open a location in Piazza del Duomo, a popular tourist destination.
The city’s mayor, Dario Nardella, said he wanted to support “traditional business” in the area, according to Agence France-Presse.
“McDonald’s has the right to submit an application because this is permitted under the law, but we also have the right to say no,” he said.
Controversial McDonald's opens in Vatican City amid cardinal protests
Ronald McDonald has officially joined the Pope in Vatican City.
Despite a very public battle waged by locals and religious officials to keep the fast food chain out of the Papal headquarters, a branch of the golden arches chain restaurant opened for business on Friday-- just feet away from Saint Peter’s Square.
The establishment, open six days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., is located on the ground floor in a Vatican-owned building about 100 yards from the Pope’s home. Some cardinals complained about not being consulted prior to the restaurant’s construction live directly above the new Italian home of the Big Mac.
“It’s a controversial, perverse decision to say the least,” said Cardinal Elio Sgreccia in an interview with La Repubblica in October.
Opening a branch of the popular fast-food chain, Sgreccia argued, is “by no means respectful of the architectural traditions of one of the most characteristic squares which look onto the colonnade of Saint Peter's.”
Now that the restaurant is open, Sgreccia hasn’t tempered his views. He said the new, 5,800-square foot location is a “perversion” and “aberrant.”
"I repeat, selling mega-sandwiches in Borgo Pio is a disgrace," Sgreccia told the Mirror, suggesting the money could be better spent on helping the area's homeless population. "The area's needy...and suffering, as the Holy Father teaches."
The Vatican is set to collect a monthly rent of 30,000 euros (or $33,000) from McDonald’s, according to La Repubblica. The Vatican's real estate is controlled by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.
There are already two existing McDonald’s outposts close to the Vatican, in addition to a Burger King, but the new McDonald’s is the only restaurant located in a building owned by the state.
This isn't the first time McDonald's has had to fight for space in Italy.
In July, thousands of Italians signed a Facebook petition objecting to a proposal to build a McDonald's in the historic Piazza del Duomo. The International Slow Food Movement, a grassroots organization opposed to fast food, also protested the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps.
The fast food chain later sued the city of Florence after its application to build the site in the Piazza del Duomo was rejected.