VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI hosted his first youth festival Saturday in St. Peter’s Square, drawing about 100,000 children and their parents to an afternoon of singing and break-dancing reminiscent of the gatherings inspired by the late Pope John Paul II.

Children in yellow and red T-shirts leapfrogged over one another on the steps of St. Peter’s as the late-afternoon ceremony got under way.

Benedict extended the invitation to children who had made their First Communion in 2005, the year John Paul set aside to celebrate the Eucharist.

And John Paul’s spirit was very much present at Saturday’s gathering, with announcers referring to him repeatedly and a montage of the late pope’s many meetings with children broadcast by RAI state television as part of the production.

The Vatican said Benedict would answer questions from a select group of children. Most of the 100,000 people on hand were from the Rome area, although some came from elsewhere in Italy and at least one group came from Spain, organizers said.

Singer Amy Stewart and a group of clowns provided entertainment between songs, prayers and readings.

Benedict met with the hundreds of thousands of young people who attended World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in August, but Saturday’s encounter was the first such gathering in the Vatican since Benedict’s April 19 election as pontiff.


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