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The Vatican was converted into a giant circus venue on Saturday as Pope Benedict XVI welcomed a parade of clowns, acrobats and and carnival folk.

More than 7,000 travelling performers from 14 countries played in front of a 4,000 strong crowd.

To enhance the scene, a big top tent and carousel were also installed in St Peters Square.

As well as the entertainment, officials said they wanted to make street artists feel like they belong to the Catholic Church.

Benedict, who is a cat lover, was particularly taken by a pair of lion cubs that were introduced to the pontif.

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