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 CNS Story:

VATICAN-TREE Dec-15-2004 (450 words) With photos to come. xxxi

Foresters, pilots, truckers work to get 105-foot tree to Vatican

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bringing the Vatican its traditional Christmas tree this year represented a gargantuan effort on the part of Italian foresters, helicopter pilots and truckers.

Tipping the scales at almost 9 tons and reaching 105 feet tall, this year's conifer took a twin-engine, tandem rotor Chinook military chopper to pluck it delicately out of northern Italy's mountainous Dolomite region.

A massive crane was then used to hoist the 115-year-old spruce fir onto a special big-rig truck that wound its way out of the forest along twisty alpine roads.

After two days under police escort on Italy's highways, the tree arrived Dec. 9 in St. Peter's Square.

In his Dec. 15 general audience, Pope John Paul II, who began the practice of erecting an evergreen in the square, thanked the people of Italy's Trento province for donating this year's tree to the Vatican.

He said the Christmas tree will help "visitors and pilgrims remember the birth of Jesus, the light of the world."

The towering fir reminded the pope of his vacations to Italy's Alpine region.

"I remember with gratitude the cordial welcome offered me during my brief but intense visits to your beautiful mountains," the pope told some 650 representatives from Trento.

Twenty years ago, the pope went skiing in the national park from which this year's tree came.

"We wanted to commemorate the passing of 20 years since the pope's visit to our area and give a sense of continuity," the deputy mayor of Pinzolo, Diego Valentini, told Catholic News Service Dec. 15.

Valentini said the hunt for the perfect conifer to adorn St. Peter's Square began in mid-November.

Italian forestry workers spent a week scouring Italy's largest national park, which spans some 240 square miles. The tree was cut Nov. 21 and hauled away by an army helicopter four days later.

"The tree would have been cut down anyway as part of the park's forest management plan," Valentini said, emphasizing that felling select trees does not damage the forest, but keeps it healthy.

City officials also donated smaller trees, which were placed in the Paul VI audience hall, the pope's residence and other places around the Vatican.

Vatican workers bedecked the evergreen in St. Peter's Square with large silver and gold balls, silver tinsel and strings of yellow and white lights in time for its Dec. 15 inauguration.

Officials from Trento and the Vatican attended the official lighting ceremony.

The tree and the neighboring Nativity scene, still under construction, are due to stay up until the Feb. 2 feast of the Presentation of the Lord, commemorating Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple 40 days after his birth.

END


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