.- The President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, offered a concert on Thursday evening in commemoration of the five year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate. In his address beforehand, the president was clear in his support for the Pope and his appreciation for priests throughout the nation.
The event took place in Paul VI Hall within the Vatican and was attended by thousands of guests who had the rare opportunity to park their cars in St. Peter's Square.
Before the orchestra played, President Napolitano greeted the Pope, welcoming the music as "an offering of serenity in the difficult and often harsh times that we live."
He went on to express the "intense, affectionate closeness" of the goverment and the Italian people to the Pope and recognized the contribution of priests, through their spiritual and social commitment, to the "pursuit of good and harmony" in Italy.
Following the concert by the Youth Orchestra of Fiesole, in which pieces by Mozart, Beethoven and Milanese composer Giovanni Battista Sammartini were played, the Holy Father addressed to the gathering.
Benedict XVI thanked the president and all other contributors for the organization of the concert, which he called a "joy," and said that in it he saw "another sign of the affection that the Italian people nurtures towards the Pope."
Fr. Jim Rafferty of Scranton, Pa., who was in attendance at the concert, told CNA that the atmosphere was "very cordial and reverent" and noted "a sense of solidarity around the Holy Father."
CNA also caught up to Vatican expert Sandro Magister afterwards who called it a "splendid occasion" for an encounter between the two leaders. He also reflected on the significance of the president's recognition of the role of priests in Italian society as a "rather important signal" in current atmosphere surrounding the Church.
The concert is an annual event given as a gift from the Italian President to the Holy Father for the anniversary of his election as Pope. The milestone was officially celebrated on April 19, at which time the Pope was treated to lunch by members of the College of Cardinals.