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 CNS Story:

VATICAN-CONCERT Sep-1-2006 (270 words) With photo. xxxi

Vatican to discontinue annual Christmas concert

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a 13-year run, the annual Christmas concert at the Vatican will not be continued.

The Vatican did not say who made the decision, which was reported by Italian media Aug. 31. In recent years some church officials have viewed the concert as a distraction because of minor controversies involving performers.

Last year, church officials dropped Brazilian pop singer Daniela Mercury because they feared she would use the concert to promote the use of condoms as an anti-AIDS measure. Those who did perform were disappointed that Pope Benedict XVI did not make time for the traditional papal audience with the artists.

The annual event was taped in the Vatican audience hall in early December and rebroadcast on Christmas Eve. It always drew a sellout crowd of about 6,000 people, including many cardinals, bishops and Vatican officials.

The concert was an initiative of the Diocese of Rome, which used proceeds to help build new churches in the city. Pope John Paul II made it a point to greet the artists, lending publicity to the event.

Over the years, Pope John Paul chatted with artists like Jose Feliciano, Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Gloria Gaynor and the late John Denver. B.B. King, who performed "Merry Christmas Baby," gave the pontiff one of his electric guitars.

In 2003, U.S. pop singer Lauryn Hill stunned the concert audience when she asked church leaders to "repent" and spoke of the pain of those abused by priests. Vatican Radio termed the outburst a "sour note" to an otherwise enjoyable show.

END


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