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Wednesday, October 14, 1998 Published at 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK

World: Europe

Pope picks up the phone

Presenter Bruno Vespa: "Even journalists sometimes have a soul"

An Italian television presenter was moved to tears when he had an unexpected telephone conversation with Pope John Paul II, live on air.

"Molto grazie" - the Pope's phone call was put on air, live
In an unprecedented move, the 78-year-old Pontiff called RAI-TV's late-night news show, Porta a Porta (Door to door), to say thank you during a special tribute edition celebrating his 20 years in office.

"I would like to thank you, and everyone taking part, all those taking part in your discussion - to cordially thank you for everything you have said and done for this 20th anniversary. Many thanks," the Pope told presenter Bruno Vespa.

[ image: Pope John Paul - thankful for the celebrations]
Pope John Paul - thankful for the celebrations
Mr Vespa, who briefly lost his composure, was clearly moved by the Pope's gesture.

"Even journalists sometimes have a soul," he said, adding that he was stunned and delighted that the Pope had been watching.

The special edition programme included interviews with figures such as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Polish President Lech Walesa and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Riccardo Muti led an orchestra in the Sistine Chapel and Luciano Pavarotti sang "Ave Maria" from his home in Modena.

On Wednesday, the Vatican confirmed that Tuesday's caller was indeed the Pope, who is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his election to the papacy.

The Polish-born John Paul is the first East-European to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

A special Mass in planned for Sunday on St Peter's Square, Rome, to mark the anniversary.

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