Pope Benedict XVI and Roberto Benigni kicked off a televised Bible-reading marathon Sunday night on Italo pubcaster RAI that’s scheduled to last seven days and six nights and become the longest live TV broadcast in Italian history.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth,” pronounced the pope in a primetime live video link from the Vatican to start the nonstop recitation by 1,300 readers of the 73 books that make up the Roman Catholic Bible. The event, “Bible, Day and Night,” has been described by Giovanni Minoli, CEO of pubcaster RAI’s free satellite channel RAI Educational, as “a sort of ‘Big Brother’ of the Holy Scriptures, but with really high cultural value.”

Benigni read from Rome’s Santa Croce in Gerusalemme Basilica, where most of the other participants will take the lectern, interspersed by tenor Andrea Bocelli singing J.S. Bach’s “Lodate Dio.” Other Bible readers during the 139-hour Italo telecast will include pols, soccer players, Olympic medalists, movie stars, opera stars, glitterati plus ordinary citizens.

While organizers have taken pains to make the Bible-reading marathon a multifaith affair, with Greek Orthodox clergymen and Muslims among the readers, Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, politely declined an invitation.

The first hour of “Bible, Day and Night” went out at 7 p.m. Sunday on RAI-1, then segued to RAI Educational. The final hour will shift back to RAI-1 next Saturday, culminating with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Bertone reading the 22nd chapter of the Book of Revelation.