October 17, 2021

Vatican Lottery

Vatican Lottery

You may know of lotteries all over the world, but did you know that lotteries have grown in popularity to such an extent that even the Vatican City has hopped on board?


The 1700’s saw Rome become a place of festivities with a revival of theatre and many popping up all over Rome. Whilst this was mostly for the wealthy, the commoners had their fun and games in taverns, at home and at festivities in the town square. One of the pastimes that came from this era, open to both the rich and the commoner, was the lottery.


The Lottery was not a new concept, having been traced back to as early as the Renaissance era. Its popularity in Rome grew in the second half of the 17th century but the lottery was forbidden in 1725 by Pope Benedict XIII as it was considered immoral and should not be on display, especially for those pilgrims who came to see the Holy City. He also tried to end the widespread practice of private lotteries where unscrupulous merchants would put up items such as jewellery, works of art and even real estate. The problem with these was that there was also no one to check whether or not citizens were being swindled by these merchants. Much to his dismay, lotteries continued to be played in secret and it was nearly impossible to eradicate it entirely. In 1727 Pope Innocent XIII decided to end it by issuing a tremendous ban with severe penalties for anyone caught playing illegally. The punishment for bishops or any other clergy of the church was suspension and for all others, excommunication. Confession was no match for this sin as absolution was a gift offered only by the Pope, and he had made it quite clear where he stood on the matter.

Image from Wikipedia

However, the Romans continued to play and so, in 1731, only four years later, the new Pope Clement XII was forced to admit that legalizing lotteries would be within Rome’s best interests. Legalizing lotteries would also benefit the Catholic Church and increase their revenue in a time when the papal finances where rather unstable. The lottery was legalized but within very strict rules, only nine games per year were allowed and 5 numbers to be chosen at each draw. Back then the winners only received 25% of the money taken in as Pope Clement XII tried to grow the papal finances.


Today, however, the Vatican has more than warmed up to lotteries and has run a few over the years. In 2015 Pope Francis made headlines when he held a lottery in order to raise money for charity. This became one of 4 annual lotteries held to give back in the form of charity. In late 2016, funds from the lottery were sent to assist those who were affected by the earthquakes which had hit central Italy as well as to assist the homeless. The Vatican has come so far as to even offer the purchase of tickets online.


Pope Francis also held a lottery to enable 350 000 pilgrims to attend his talk in Philadelphia when he visited the USA. This lottery was held due to the fact that the original sales of rail passes to the event were so popular that the SEPTA (South-Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) website actually crashed! So, a lottery system was formulated in order to manage the traffic and attendees.


Another interesting lottery which the Vatican has held is the Saint Lottery. Yes, you read that correctly. The idea behind it is that Sainthood would no longer be restricted to just martyrs or those showing heroic virtue. Sainthood can now be bestowed upon those who are simply good people who follow their conscience. The Saint Lottery was held monthly and was open to all, even atheists could enter! People were invited to submit their names along with a short autobiography and “selfie” to any parish office which displayed the “Official Lucky-Saint Lottery” sign. The winner of each draw would receive a certificate of Sainthood signed by none other than the Pope, and an autographed picture of the president at the time, Obama, with the Pope in the Vatican, suitable for framing obviously.


So there you have it, even the Vatican City holds lotteries, from the average to the bizarre. Maybe it’s time to look it up and either help those in need or become a saint, or maybe become a saint by helping those in need, all whilst playing the Vatican lottery online.


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