Religious pilgrims who get hungry on a trip to the Vatican are now in luck, because a McDonald’s just opened within spitting distance of the Catholic Church’s headquarters.
The newest Golden Arches opened last week “within eyeshot” of the venerated St. Peter’s Square, the New York Times reports. Plans for the fast-food restaurant were revealed last fall and a group of local residents fought to keep McDonald’s out, arguing that the chain’s presence would only further the problem of modern shops and trinket-sellers invading the area.
While there’s already a couple of McDonald’s locations and a Burger King within the surrounding blocks, locals have seemingly taken issue with such establishments inching closer and closer to the religious center. Cardinal Elio Sgreccia called the opening a “perversion,” telling newspaper La Repubblica last fall that the space should’ve been used to help the needy instead.
McDonald’s outbid numerous other potential tenants for the space, paying a reported 30,000 euros (around $31,000) per month in rent to the Vatican, which owns the building. While that may sound hefty, it’s a relative bargain: McDonald’s likely pays around $2,300 per square foot for its space in Times Square. And while Times Square hosts some 50 million visitors annually, the Vatican is no slouch when it comes to tourism either, with 7 million flocking to St. Peter’s Square each year.
Perhaps worse yet, the New York Times says “Vatican officials also approved the addition of a Hard Rock Cafe on Via della Conciliazione, the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square.” The schlocky tourist trap will replace a religious bookstore.
While Pope Francis hasn’t publicly commented on the McDonald’s controversy, he presumably won’t be dining there: He’s demonstrated a rather discerning palate, traveling with his own preferred brand of Roman bottled water and once bringing back a plane full of ice cream from the Philippines.
A rep for McDonald’s sent the following statement defending its controversial new store:
McDonald’s Italy opened a new restaurant in a rented location near St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome on December 30th. The restaurant is not inside the Vatican, it is located in a popular tourist area outside the Vatican that already has many other restaurants, bars and retail shops. The new McDonald’s is in a building owned by APSA (the Vatican’s property entity). 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. As always, McDonald’s meets or exceeds all national and local laws and policies related to business operations in this location.
McDonald’s has also sparked outrage elsewhere in Italy recently with its plans to open near a 17th-century cathedral in Florence. After the project was blocked by local leaders including the mayor, the chain filed a $20 million lawsuit against the city.