Pope kicks off 7-day marathon Bible reading

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Sunday kicked off a seven-day, non-stop Bible reading marathon on Italian television.

The pope read for several minutes from the start of the Book of Genesis live from his apartments in the Vatican while other speakers read in the Basilica of Holy Cross in Rome.

In the next seven days and six nights, more than 1,200 people will read from the Bible until all 73 books of the Catholic edition is finished.

The second reader was from the Russian Orthodox Church and the third was an Italian protestant leader. Others on the first night included Italian politicians and artists, among them Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni.

Tenor Andrea Bocelli sang between readings.

Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, had originally agreed to read immediately after the pope but pulled out of the event last month, saying it had become “too Catholic.”

The broadcast began live on state broadcaster RAI’s first channel and was to continue on one of its satellite channels.

Editing by Richard Balmforth