(Catholic pilgrims hold up photos of the late Pope John Paul in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican January 16, 2011/Giampiero Sposito)

The Vatican has urged the faithful not to let reports of huge crowds or unscrupulous hoteliers deter them from coming to Rome for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul on May 1. “I invite everyone to come. Rome is ready. Don’t be afraid of coming or of inviting people,” said Father Caesar Atuire on Tuesday.

The Vatican has begun the countdown to what will be the biggest event in the Italian capital since the death of the charismatic and highly popular pope in 2005, when millions of people came to view his body or attend his funeral. Vatican officials expect at least 300,000 people — including tens of thousands from his native Poland — to come to Rome for the three days of events during which he will be declared a “blessed,” the last step before sainthood.

The Vatican has already warned the faithful to beware of fraudsters, particularly on the Internet, who are selling tickets to the beatification ceremony. No tickets will be necessary for any of the ceremonies.

Vatican officials told a news conference that they had stipulated an “ethical pact” with the Rome hoteliers association in which members promised not to jack up prices for the period of the events, when rooms are expected to be scarce. There have been numerous media reports of skyrocketing prices, particularly in hotels in Rome’s historic center or in the Vatican area on the other side of the Tiber River.