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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 18, 2007 • VOL. 45 NO. 12 • Oakland, CA

Pope, Bush discuss wide range of
issues, including Christians in Iraq

President George W. Bush meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, June 9. During their meeting the president gave the pope a walking stick and documents from the U.S. National Archives and the pope gave the president a gold papal coin.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting for the first time, Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President George W. Bush spoke about the precarious situation of Christians in Iraq and a wide range of other foreign policy and moral issues.

The pope and president looked relaxed as they greeted each other and spoke briefly in front of reporters before their 35-minute private encounter June 9. Bush later held a separate 40-minute meeting with the Vatican’s top foreign policy officials.

A Vatican statement described the meetings as “cordial” and said they had focused in part on “the worrisome situation in Iraq and the critical conditions in which the Christian community finds itself.” Tens of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq over the last four years to escape violence and discrimination.

The talks also touched on the overall situation in the Middle East, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and developments in Lebanon.

“The Holy See again expressed the hope for a ‘regional’ and ‘negotiated’ solution to the conflicts and crises that are tormenting the region,” the Vatican statement said.

Bush and the pope also discussed problems in Africa, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and developments in Latin America, it said.

“Finally, there was an examination of current moral and religious questions, including those related to human rights and religious freedom, the defense and promotion of life, marriage and the family, education of new generations and sustainable development,” the Vatican said.

Before the president’s visit, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, went out of his way to praise Bush for his position on abortion and for “positive initiatives in favor of the defense of life from conception.”

Bush arrived at the Vatican under very heavy security. His motorcade entered St. Peter’s Square from a side street instead of along Via della Conciliazione, the wide avenue leading to the Vatican, which had been cleared of cars and was lined with curious onlookers.

In the sunny St. Damasus Courtyard, the president was greeted by U.S. Archbishop James Harvey, one of the pope’s private secretaries, who escorted him past a picket of Swiss Guards and up an elevator to the fourth floor of the Apostolic Palace for the papal audience.

The pope smiled broadly as he greeted Bush just outside his private library. The two men shook hands, and the pope ushered the president to a large desk. Reporters and photographers were allowed to stay for the first minute of the encounter.

“It’s good to be with you sir,” Bush said as he sat down opposite the pope, crossing his legs and leaning back in a white chair.

“You come from the conference in Heiligendamm?” the pope said, referring to the Group of Eight meeting of the heads of industrialized countries in Germany.

“I did, your old country. And it was successful,” the president replied.

“Successful? You had some decisions? It’s not so easy,” the pope said. He said it was important for humanity that conferences like this produce decisions.

“It was, you know, a lot of different opinions. But it was good. It was good,” Bush said.

After reporters left, the two leaders met privately without aides or interpreters. When the doors of the library opened, Bush’s entourage was led into the room and the president introduced them, one by one, to the pope.


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