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ROME (Reuters) - Crowds of homeless people, refugees and paroled prisoners took a trip to the circus courtesy of the Vatican on Thursday, in the latest gesture of affection for the poor and needy which has been a hallmark of Pope Francis's papacy.
The Vatican ferried about 1,000 adults and children in coaches to the big top on the outskirts of Rome to watch a knife-throwing act and white horses dancing to Latin music.
The show's opening number was a song written for the pope by a homeless Spanish singer-songwriter, though Francis himself was not present. Doctors were on hand to give free medical advice to anyone who wanted it.
One of the attendees, a homeless Polish man called Marek, said the event satisfied the common need for "a bit of fun".
"We can't always be sad for the things that have happened. We need to be able to find a small, small space to be light-hearted," he said.
The Argentine pontiff made a surprise personal visit during a private tour of the Sistine Chapel he arranged for homeless people last March.
He has praised circus performers in the past.
"They create beauty, and this is good for the soul," he said during a general audience last year.
The event was organized by the pope's charity office, which has also set up showers for the homeless in St. Peter's Square and offered them haircuts and shaves.
During a visit last April to a Rome prison where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates, Francis said he wanted to be a servant of society's neediest people.
Reporting by Antonio Denti; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Andrew Heavens