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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 02:58 GMT 03:58 UK
Red Army choir performs for Pope
By David Willey
BBC correspondent in Rome

Russian Red Army Orchestra choir performs in the Vatican
Red Army choristers used to sing about "razing the churches"...
Pope John Paul II has marked his 26th year as head of the Roman Catholic Church by attending a concert given by Russia's Red Army choir.

Unthinkable before the fall of the Soviet Union, the event staged in the Vatican's general audience hall was televised live in Italy and Russia.

A Swiss Guard marched across the stage and a Russian military guard goose-stepped in the opposite direction.

Cossack dancers capered where religious ceremonies normally take place.

On the stage, bathed in red light, the choir founded more than 70 years ago by soldiers who took part in the Bolshevik revolution sang traditional Russian songs in full dress military uniform.

The Pope was wheeled on his portable throne into the central aisle to watch the performance.

Pope at the Russian concert
...but on Friday they even sang a Polish song for the pontiff.
He seemed delighted and afterwards described Russia - one of the few countries he has never been able to visit because of opposition by the Russian Orthodox Church - as a land especially dear to him.

Although these days he is often almost unable to speak because of the growing effects of Parkinson's Disease, Pope John Paul, the third-longest reigning pope in history, continues to receive distinguished visitors and to officiate at Vatican ceremonies.

The head of the billion-strong Church says he has no intention of stepping down.

Unlike last year, when there was a week of official celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of his election as pontiff, this year it is business as usual at the Vatican - except for the Red Army song and dance show.

Pope returns rare icon to Russia
28 Aug 04  |  Europe
Profile: Pope John Paul II
02 Oct 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Vatican
08 Oct 03  |  Country profiles

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