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Nuns face off in online beauty contest

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Updated! Father Jack would dribble into his drink - a rather open-minded Italian priest is running a beauty contest for nuns.

The pageant, which is the brainchild of Father Antonio Rungi of Mondragone near Naples, is intended to challenge the stereotype of the nun as plain at best and grotesque at worst. According to the Times, Father Antonio is expecting 1,000 habit-clad lovelies to line up and display their gorgeousness - although not too much of it. Any unspeakable pervs hoping for details of the blessed bikini round should stop reading now - the best you can hope for from the parade of sisters is loosened hair. Cor.

“Do you really think nuns are all wizened, funereal old ladies?" questioned the enterprising priest. "Today it’s not like that any more, thanks to an injection of youth and vitality brought to our country by foreign girls.” He wants to show the world that nuns have "physical and spiritual beauty", although of course he considers "inner beauty" to be most important. The contest aims to show that “there is... such a thing as a chaste ideal, which comes from the heart and the soul, and has a beneficial effect on those who come into contact with it".

The Sister Italia contest is to run online to begin with (herewith your IT angle, so shush), but Father Antonio wants to see it emerge into the real world thereafter. Contestants must be between 18 and 40, and can be novices or full members of an order. They can also be from outside Italy - nuns from Africa and Brazil especially are "really very, very pretty", apparently.

The idea came from the nuns themselves, Father Antonio insists, and they are keen to participate. Each will be required to submit a photograph along with details about herself and her daily life as well as her spiritual development.

The first batch of scrumptious nuns will grace the priest's blog at the start of September. The latest post appears to be Father Antonio's reaction to the inevitably smirky press coverage of the beauty contest (how tawdry of them, we shall have no part of it) and the perhaps even more inevitable frownings from unimpressed Catholics.

“I have had some emails from Christians who perhaps have not grasped the evangelising spirit of the initiative, or the potential of the internet, which is a marvellous tool for spreading the Christian message," the priest said. "Unfortunately, some people still have a closed mentality.”

Happily, Father Antonio hasn't let the naysayers put him off. According to Google's unerringly accurate translation of his blog, he defiantly concludes: "If a blog unit where the nuns told you can almost compete in goodness, love and service to life and goodness of men roll by any party." We can all learn a little something from that. ®

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Alas, according to Reuters it's all off as of Tuesday afternoon, due to Father Antonio's less than open-minded superiors and too much tawdry sniggering/angry mud-slinging from other quarters. "My superiors were not happy," quoth he. "The local bishop was not happy, but they did not understand me either."

"It was not at all my intention to put nuns on the catwalk."

Sorry, Father.

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