Pope launches marathon Bible reading in Italy

Pope Benedict XVI launched a week-long Bible reading marathon Sunday evening.

Pope Benedict XVI launched a week-long Bible reading marathon Sunday evening.

The Pope stood at a podium in the Vatican's Apostolic palace and began with the book of Genesis, the first book of the Christian faith's holy book, whose opening verses describe the seven days of God's creation of the world.

The reading — which is being broadcast on Italian state television — will go non-stop for an entire week with more than 1,200 people taking turns.

Paolo Ciani, who is a member of the Catholic Sant' Egidio, a Rome-based lay Catholic group that mediates in world conflicts, was among those watching at home with his family as the Pope began the marathon reading.

While the Pope recited his segment from the Vatican, most of the reading will be done live in Rome's Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a basilica built in the 4th century.

Oscar-winning director Roberto Benigni was among those reading from the Bible on Sunday.

Besides Roman Catholics, members of other religions, including Jews, Protestants and Orthodox Christians, will participate.

Outside the packed basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a crowd gathered in front of the torch-lit facade.

Benedict, who appeared on a giant screen mounted in the church to start the marathon, was followed by Bishop Ilarion, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Every few chapters the reading will be interrupted to play Christian or Jewish religious music. Opera star Andrea Bocelli led the first interlude on Sunday, singing Bach's Praise the Lord.

Addressing the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square for his opening reading, Benedict noted the televised marathon would run parallel to a worldwide meeting of bishops to discuss the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics.

The meeting of 253 bishops, known as a synod, will run from Monday to Oct. 26.

The Bible marathon is scheduled to end on Oct. 12, when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's second most senior official, will read the last chapter of the Apocalypse.