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Chinese Musicians Perform for Pope in Landmark Concert

The China Philharmonic Orchestra performed for Pope Benedict XVI in a landmark concert Wednesday that is billed as marking the warming of relations between Beijing and the Vatican. Sabina Castelfranco has this VOA report from Rome

It was a special evening in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. For the first time the China Philharmonic Orchestra performed for Pope Benedict. Before the start of the concert Yu Long, one of China's most renowned conductors, said this was a glorious moment that would be cherished long in their memories.

Benedict himself called the event truly unique. For one hour, the 75-member orchestra and the chorus of the Shanghai Opera performed Mozart's Requiem and Chinese folk songs. Benedict praised music as a bridge between cultures and peoples. He also greeted all the people of China as they prepare for the Olympic games next summer.

China's officially atheist Communist Party cut ties with the Vatican in 1951 and the two sides have not restored formal ties. Beijing objects to the Vatican's tradition of having the pope name his own bishops, calling it interference in China's affairs.

China appoints bishops for the state-sanctioned Catholic Church. But many of the country's estimated 12 million Catholics worship in congregations outside the state-approved church. The pope had a special message for steadfast Chinese Catholics loyal to the Church in Rome.

Benedict says, "In greeting you this evening, dear Chinese artists, the pope intends to reach out to your entire people, with a special thought for those of your fellow citizens who share faith in Jesus and are united through a particular spiritual bond with the Successor of Peter."

The concert is seen as indicating a warming of relations between China and the Vatican. Benedict has made improving relations with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate. He issued an open letter addressed to the Chinese last June saying he sought to restore full diplomatic ties with China.