VATICAN CITY (RNS) A priestly prestidigitator presented Pope John Paul II with a magic wand Wednesday (Jan. 30) and asked the Roman Catholic pontiff to give magicians their own patron saint.

The Rev. Silvio Mantelli, a Salesian priest from Turin who performs magic under the stage name of Sales, led a pilgrimage of 250 Italian jugglers and conjurers to the pope's weekly general audience.

Mantelli, wearing a clerical collar and a cone-shaped magician's hat, handed the 81-year-old John Paul a crystal box containing a wooden wand from India, guaranteed to perform only white magic.

Vatican officials said it was the first time a pope had received a magic wand.

With the wand the priest gave John Paul a letter asking him to declare St. John Bosco the patron saint of magicians.

A 19th century Italian priest and educator who founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales (Salesians), Bosco also was a noted prestidigitator. He was canonized in 1934 and already is the patron of students and editors.

The priest said the group also told the pope in their letter that "we pray every day that he may continue to make magic, bringing the world peace and serenity."

Mantelli said he received the wand as a present from a young boy in an Indian orphanage operated by Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity. He said it had belonged to the boy's father, who was a conjurer.

The magician-pilgrims are members of the Foundation Magiciens sans Frontieres (Magicians without Frontiers). The organization, which Mantelli heads, raises money through performances to help children in the Third World.

"For us, magic or illusion is a way of reaching the hearts of people and amusing them," Mantelli said.

But he said his group wants nothing to do with the fortune-tellers popular in Italy. "They are all charlatans, opportunists who take advantage of the ignorance and credulity of people to do evil. We must defeat superstition," he said.

Mantelli also organized a Holy Year pilgrimage of magicians to Rome in 2000.

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