WASHINGTON — Details of President Bush’s June 9 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI trickled out, but the White House took the step of inviting journalists to participate in a telephone conference call with two administration officials June 15.
The meeting left a lasting impression, the officials said.
“President Bush was deeply moved by the experience,” said Judith Ansley, special assistant to the president.
While the first part of the visit was televised, the Pope and the president met behind closed doors for 35 minutes.
“The president has kept much of what he and Pope Benedict discussed privately private,” Ansley added.
But no matter how private, such a meeting is “profound and historic, both professionally and personally,” said Raymond Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.
“When the most important political leader meets with the most important moral leader, the meeting is always significant, even if we don’t know what transpired privately,” Flynn said.
Recalling the meeting between President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II, Flynn said that Clinton often referred to his conversations with John Paul in other meetings. Flynn said that meeting gave Clinton a better understanding of world situations “as well as the moral perspective of the Holy Father.”
Bush met John Paul three times during his first term as president, but the June 9 encounter was the first between Bush and Benedict.
Flynn said that the meeting was “an extraordinary moment in history” when two of the most important people in the world have an opportunity to help make strides toward achieving stability and peace in the world.
“The Catholic Church has an important role to play in resolving disputes in many parts of the world,” Flynn said. “It can only benefit the world and our country if there is more of a partnership working out some of the current disputes.”
During the televised portion of the Vatican meeting, Bush highlighted the successes of the Group of 8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, where the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations agreed to cooperate in efforts to fight AIDS, Malaria and world hunger.
Ansley said the Pope appeared to be pleased that world leaders were making strides to alleviate poverty-related disease.
White House officials said world leaders at the G8 meeting agreed to match the U.S. contribution of $30 billion to fight disease and to educate children of developing nations with another $30 billion over five years.
Moreover, Patrick Marcham, who works on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at the National Security Council, said leaders agreed to meeting specific goals to eliminate disease and hunger in afflicted countries.
In addition to addressing the poverty and disease in the world’s developing nations, they also discussed the crisis in Darfur, immigration reform, the defense and promotion of life, marriage and the family and sustainable development.
Major areas of concern for Pope Benedict also included the “worrying situation in Iraq and critical conditions being experienced by Christian communities” especially in the Middle East.
Bush assured the Holy Father that coalition forces were trying to protect Christian communities as well as face concerns about the growing number of Iraqi refugees, Ansley said.
A Vatican statement said that Pope Benedict expressed his hope for a “regional and negotiated” solution to conflicts and crises in the Middle East.
After leaving the Vatican, Bush met with leaders of the Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic lay organization that works to assist AIDS victims in Africa. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that Bush was “deeply impressed” by the community’s efforts and wanted both to acknowledge them and to learn from them.
filed this report from Rome.