China approached Vatican about concert for pope

Mon May 5, 2008 7:33am EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Beijing approached the Vatican to let the China Philharmonic Orchestra perform for Pope Benedict in an unprecedented concert that could help improve often thorny relations, Church sources said on Monday.

The sources, who spoke on condition that they not be named, said the Vatican realized that China is trying to improve its international image but that Church officials hope the performance could be a seed for eventual diplomatic relations.

However they cautioned not to expect any immediate breakthroughs following Wednesday night's concert at the Vatican.

"I don't think they (the communist government) are doing it out of love for the pope or love of the Holy See but it will be positive in the end," said one source, a priest who is familiar with the situation.

The orchestra, currently on a European tour, will perform Mozart's "Requiem" and Chinese folk songs along with the Shanghai Opera House Chorus in the Vatican audience hall.

Benedict has made improving relations with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate and issued a 55-page open letter in June saying he sought to restore full diplomatic ties with China that were severed two years after the 1949 Communist takeover.

Catholics in China are split between those who belong to a state-backed Church and an underground Church whose members are loyal to the Vatican.

The priest said a Chinese diplomatic envoy approached a Vatican official outside Italy and made the offer. An initial offer for the orchestra to play for the pope was made several months ago but the concert could not be arranged.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd gathered in Saint Peter's square after his Regina Coeli prayers at the Vatican May 4, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Helgren</p>