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Pope begins two-day visit to Venice

.- Pope Benedict XVI will take to the water in a gondola this weekend as part of a two-day visit to Venice. It is his first papal visit to the historic Italian city famously built upon a series of canals.

The highlight of his 27-hour-visit will come tomorrow when Benedict celebrates Mass before an estimated congregation of 300,000. He’ll then travel the waterways on the same gondola used by Pope John Paul II in 1985 during the last papal visit to Venice.

The boat will take him to the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. There he’ll meet representatives from the worlds of business, politics and culture at the official opening of a new cultural center founded by Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice.

The Pope’s pastoral visit began on May 7 with a visit to the nearby town of Aquileia where he was met by enthusiastic crowds.

Tradition holds that St Mark the Evangelist used Venice as a first-century base for his mission to preach the gospel to surrounding nations. He is now the city’s patron. In honor of the saint, Pope Benedict will this evening visit the city’s St Mark’s basilica where he will address bishops from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany as well as northeast Italy.

This weekend’s visit is the third by a pope to Venice in the past 40 years. As well as the 1985 visit of John Paul II, Pope Paul VI also made a pilgrimage to the city in 1972.

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