Pope Francis urges Rome to be a city of solidarity and peace.
Rome has begun a year-long programme of celebrations leading up to its 150th anniversary as the capital city of Italy in 2021.
The anniversary commemorates the declaration of Rome as the capital of the nascent Kingdom of Italy on 3 February 1871 after Italian forces led by Garibaldi put an end to papal control of Rome and the Papal States.
The opening commemorative ceremony - a concert at Rome's Opera House last night - began with Italy's national anthem and was held in the presence of Italy's president Sergio Mattarella and Rome mayor Virginia Raggi.
Launching the opening ceremony, the mayor said: "Rome is a welcoming, international city. A city open to all. It always will be."
The event alternated between music and performance, with luminaries on stage including composer Ezio Bosso, actor Gigi Proietti and tenor Andrea Bocelli, who cited Goethe's declaration of Rome as the "capital of the world".
The pope was represented by the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who read out a message from Pope Francis, bishop of Rome. The pontiff described Rome's declaration as the Italian capital as “providential" - an event that "changed Rome, Italy and the Church herself" - and invited residents to make the city a place of solidarity and peace.
Pope Francis also underlined several historical events, illustrating influences between the Catholic church and the capital city.
The pontiff made particular reference to the nine-month Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943 and 1944, during which more than a thousand Roman Jews were sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Pope Francis said the Church offered shelter to many Jews which led to the fall of “ancient barriers and painful distances” between the Jewish and Catholic communities.
Rome Opera House
The host building for the ceremony, Rome's Opera House, opened its doors for the first time - in the presence of the King of Italy - nine years after the proclamation of Rome as the Italian capital.
"Since then, the Opera House has accompanied the events of the city with a constant presence, always remaining a point of reference for the musical and cultural life of the city", said Carlo Fuortes, the superintendent of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma.
The city's commemorative celebrations will come to an end on 3 February 2021.
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