Pope to lead galaxy of stars in Bible-reading marathon


Pope Benedict will this Sunday lead off a non-stop, six-day, seven-night televised reading of the entire Old and New Testaments in a Bible marathon that will bring the pontiff together with stars from the worlds of football, cinema and opera as well as more than 1,000 Italians from all walks of life.

The brainchild of Giuseppe De Carli, senior Vatican correspondent for Italian state broadcaster RAI, it has been timed to coincide with the opening this weekend of a Vatican synod (mini-parliament) entitled The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.

Brazil and AC Milan midfielder Kaka and Italy and Juventus defender Nicola Legrottaglie will be taking part, as will the Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni, who starred in the 1999 hit film Life Is Beautifulabout the Holocaust.

Opera-pop crooner Andrea Bocelli has volunteered his services for the "musical reflection" that will take place every 1½ hours between the readings, which will each last between four and eight minutes.

More than 1,300 people, including Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims will take part in the event, which will be televised live from the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. Although it will be transmitted primarily on RAI's educational satellite channel, web viewers can follow the event on www.labibbiagiornoenotte.rai.it.

It should be pointed out, however, that the readings will be mainly in Italian with a few excerpts in Hebrew, Arabic and Ancient Greek.

Presenting the event in Rome yesterday, De Carli called it "an intuition, a cultural proposal" of an ecumenical and inter-religious nature that could well be headed for the Guinness Book of Recordsas the longest non-stop, live TV broadcast of all time. Partly based on a similar, week-long reading held in a church in Limoges, France, in 2005, next week's Bible marathon features not only many of the makers and shakers of modern Italy but also an Auschwitz survivor, three blind people, a reader who will use sign language, a patient from Bambin Gesu children's hospital and eight inmates of the Regina Coeli and Casal del Marmo borstal institutes.

Pope Benedict will put the show on the road on Sunday evening by reading the opening words of the Book of Genesis while the event ends on the following Saturday evening when the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, reads the final verses from the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation.

Five times prime minister Giulio Andreotti, three former state presidents (Cossiga, Ciampi and Scalfaro) and neo-fascist mayor of Rome Gianni Alemano are among those who will do readings.