Ukraine flavors Vatican Christmas tree lighting

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Pilgrims and tourists gather around the 30 meters (98 feet) Christmas tree in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, that was lit for the first time Friday, Dec. 16, 2011. The tree was supplied by Ukraine. In background is the St. Peter's Basilica facade. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Ukrainian pilgrims sang folk songs and carols and recalled the late Pope John Paul II's visit as the Vatican lit its Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square, a 25-meter (82-foot) pine from the Carpathian mountains in their country.

The tree was decorated with 2,500 gold and silver balls and figures of animals and toys. The ceremony Friday evening included a folk choir with children carrying giant pinwheels, a Christmas tradition in Ukraine.

Polish-born John Paul began the tradition of erecting a tall Christmas tree in the square in 1982; the Bavarian-born Pope Benedict XVI has continued it.

Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, who served as a secretary to John Paul before returning to his homeland of Ukraine, said the tree was "to thank John Paul" for his 2001 visit.