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BY Edward Pentin
Pope Benedict XVI received President Barack Obama this afternoon at the Vatican in a private audience lasting just over 40 minutes.
After the meeting, the Vatican released the following statement:
“This afternoon, Friday 10 July 2009, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI received in audience the president of the United States of America, His Excellency Mr. Barack H. Obama. Prior to the audience, the president met His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state, and also His Excellency Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.
In the course of their cordial exchanges, the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interests of all and which constitute a great challenge for the future of every nation and for the true progress of peoples, such as the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one’s conscience.
Reference was also made to immigration with particular attention to the matter of reuniting families.
The meeting focused as well upon matters of international politics, especially in light of the outcome of the G8 Summit. The conversation also dealt with the peace process in the Middle East, on which there was general agreement, and with other regional situations. Certain current issues were then considered, such as dialogue between cultures and religions, the global economic crisis and its ethical implications, food security, development aid especially for Africa and Latin America, and the problem of drug trafficking. Finally, the importance of educating young people everywhere in the value of tolerance was highlighted.”
President Obama arrived at the Vatican shortly after 4 p.m. On greeting the president, who had come straight from L’Aquila where the G8 Summit had just closed, the Pope asked him how the summit went. Obama said “it was very productive” and “some concrete things” were achieved. The two were then left alone, with just interpreters in case of language difficulties.
After the private meeting, the president was joined by the first lady for a photo opportunity and various pleasantries were exchanged.
“We’re very grateful and honored to have met you,” the president told the Pope.
Obama introduced his delegation to the Pope: press spokesman Robert Gibbs, special advisor David Axelrod, and Julieta Valls, chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. Obama also introduced Denis McDonough, one of his national security advisors, and pointed out to the Pope that McDonough has a brother who is a priest.
The Pope gave each of the delegation a rosary or pontifical medal.
To Obama, the Pope gave an autographed copy of his latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) and a framed mosaic of St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. “It’s beautiful,” said Obama. “We’ll have to find a place for it in our house.”
Obama gave the Pope a stole worn by St. John Neumann, a 19th-century Redemptorist priest who is the patron saint of sick children and immigrants. Born in Bohemia in 1811, he died in Philadelphia in 1860, was beatified in 1963, and canonized in 1977 by Paul VI.
On leaving, the Pope thanked Obama for coming. “I will pray for you,” he said. “We are very grateful,” replied the president, “and we look forward to a very strong relationship between our two countries. Thank you so much and God bless you.”
The party was then led through the ornate corridors of the Apostolic Palace by officials and Swiss Guards and given a small guided tour of the masterpieces lining the walls.
Obama arrived at the Vatican on his own and was first introduced to members of the pontifical household, headed by American Archbishop James Harvey. The household’s members are mostly made up of Roman nobility whose families have traditionally assisted popes for centuries.
Before meeting the Pope, Obama and his advisors had a 15-minute private talk with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, and Msgr. Peter Wells, an American official in charge of overseeing relations with the United States at the Holy See.