NL finds room at Vatican

'Nativity' Holy See's first major premiere

For the first time, the Holy See hosted the world premiere of a mass-market film, with the Christmas drama "The Nativity Story" screening Sunday to a large and enthusiastic crowd.

The Vatican rarely gives more than tacit approval to films or other cultural phenomena. But the 7,000-strong crowd on hand for the New Line Cinema production at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall represented a rare and clear endorsement by the Holy See, the seat of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

The Catherine Hardwicke-directed drama tells the story of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. It stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph.

The film was loudly applauded at its conclusion, and the screening was punctuated by several fervent outbursts.

About one-tenth of those on hand represented various vocations, with at least six cardinals in the hall. Pope Benedict XVI ? who will travel to Turkey today ? did not attend, but the Vatican's second-ranking official, Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, did appear. Additionally, the film was officially introduced by Archbishop John Foley, the head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

The premiere was a fundraiser for the construction of a school in the village of Mughar, Israel.