Wed, Jul 26, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Take a swim and talk to Jesus at an Italian beach resort


The beaches of Italy offer a wide variety of facilities: loungers, umbrellas, ice creams and, increasingly, a chance to get a massage or a tattoo. But the Adriatic resort of Pescara can now offer a unique attraction -- the opportunity to emerge from a night of partying with a soul wiped free of sin.

Don Vito Canto, a 33-year-old priest from a village near Pescara, says he had listened to confessions "almost uninterrupted" from Saturday night into Sunday morning at a makeshift shrine on the sands.

Backed by volunteers wearing red Baywatch-style T-shirts and calling themselves the Lifeguards of Jesus, Father Vito and another priest were on hand to offer penance and absolution from 10 at night until one in the morning.

"Some people were a bit mistrustful and others were sarcastic. But in general the reaction was very positive," he said.

Some 30 Lifeguards of Jesus -- drawn from a Roman Catholic lay association, the Movimento pro Sanctitate -- fanned out from the nearby Church of St Peter to fish for souls among the resort's night-time revellers. Their outpost on the sands was made up of a crucifix, a host in a monstrance and a lifebelt.

The Adriatic coast is a dance culture mecca in which even the Almighty would at times struggle to be heard over the riffs.

"But," Monsignor Vincenzo Amadio at St Peter's, "we have to get in touch with people in the places where they are. We are changing from a church that called people in to one that goes after them."

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