Vatican tries to woo back the art world

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Pope Benedict has invited international artists, sculptors, architects, musicians, film directors and even a solitary Italian prima ballerina to meet him under the soaring vaulted ceiling of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel in the Vatican on Saturday to begin a new dialogue between the Catholic Church and the arts.

Five hundred invitations were sent out to leading figures in the arts around the world last September, and more than 250 acceptances have been received at the Vatican.

Among them are such well-known names such as Anish Kapoor, whose current exhibition at the Royal Academy in London is drawing crowds; Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect whose striking new Maxxi Museum of Modern Art has just opened in Rome; Daniel Libeskind, the Polish-born American who won the competition for the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre site in New York; and F Murray Abraham, the American movie star of Syrian descent who won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Salieri in the Mozart film, Amadeus, in 1985.

It is an eclectic list in which Italians outnumber all the foreigners. Among them are sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro; the doyen of film score composers, Ennio Morricone; and opera star Andrea Bocelli.

For the moment, the Vatican is being coy about revealing which artists refused the Pope's invitation or excused themselves on the grounds of a previous engagement.

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