Rome — Police said Monday they had seized 3,500 fake Vatican parchments that were being sold to unsuspecting pilgrims taking part in Pope Francis' Holy Year celebrations.
Rome's financial police seized the parchments, valued at about 70,000 euros ($76,000), at a souvenir shop near St. Peter's Basilica, where heightened police patrols have been deployed to protect pilgrims taking part in the yearlong Jubilee celebrations.
The parchments were knock-offs of the calligraphy-filled, personalized Apostolic Blessing parchments that are sold inside the Vatican by Francis' chief alms-giver to fund the pope's charitable efforts. The parchments are valued keepsakes, commemorating births, marriages and in this case, Holy Year pilgrimages.
When purchased legitimately inside the Vatican, the parchments range from $8 to $40 apiece.
The Vatican used to outsource the parchments to craftsmen around town, but earlier this year cancelled the work to keep all proceeds in-house.
The sequester — part of the 1 million counterfeit objects seized in the first week of the Jubilee celebrations — lent credence to the Vatican's own warning that fraudsters may pose a greater risk to visitors for the Holy Year than Islamic extremists.
On the eve of the opening of the Vatican's Holy Door, Archbishop Renato Fisichella, the Jubilee's chief organizer, invited all pilgrims to watch out for people trying to defraud them with everything from fake pilgrimage certificates to paid tickets for free papal events.
"It's not just about security for fear of ISIS. There has to be security to watch out for people's dignity," he said, using another acronym for the Islamic State group.
Following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, thousands of extra police and soldiers were deployed in Rome, and a no-fly zone imposed over its skies, to protect the pope and pilgrims from a similar attack.
Italian media has attributed the relatively low number of pilgrims to security fears. But Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Monday the low turnout was due more to the fact that Francis all along intended the Holy Year of Mercy to be celebrated locally, not necessarily in Rome.