ROME (Reuters) - Usually, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sings for people, but this time the Franciscan monks in Assisi sang for his supper as they feted the international superstar on his 54th birthday.
Bocelli was in Assisi along with U.S. singer Dionne Warwick and other artists to sing at a benefit concert on Saturday night organized by the Fetzer Institute, a non-profit U.S. group whose mission is to promote peace and forgiveness among peoples.
When the monks found out that the date of the concert coincided with Bocelli’s 54th birthday, they invited him to partake in a spartan dinner in the refectory of their basilica-convent complex - a Franciscan tradition of hospitality.
“We, along with Saint Francis, want to praise the Lord for the gift of Andrea, for the gift of his life and of his witness,” Father Giuseppe Piemontese, the custodian of the Sacred Convent of St Francis, said in his toast.
“May St Francis accompany you,” he told Bocelli, who has been blind since the age of 12 and burst on the international music scene at the San Remo song festival 20 years ago.
After Father Piemontese, the monks sang Happy Birthday in Italian twice for Bocelli before he cut a large white cake marked “Love and Forgiveness, Happy Birthday Andrea”.
Later at the concert, Bocelli sang Ave Maria and a number of other songs.
“This place is oozing with spirituality,” he told the crowd in the piazza outside the lower basilica, where St Francis is buried.
Bocelli who hails from Tuscany - the region next door to the Umbrian region where Assisi is located - also presented a new charity initiative of his foundation.
The project, named “Project Virginia” after Bocelli’s daughter, will benefit the Saint Damien children’s hospital in Haiti, a country which has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates.
The video of the event can be found at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it
Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato