Pope Benedict Receives US President Barack Obama


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(10 Jul 09 - RV)Pope Benedict XVI and US President Barack Obama met for the first time Friday, when the US Head of State was received in audience at the Vatican.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's contribution in developing countries" were key topics of discussion between the pope and the president.

In addition, Fr. Lombardi said the they discussed inter-religious dialogue and Middle East peace, with both reaffirming the need for a two state solution. He said the US president "reiterated his commitment to reducing the incidence of abortion".

President Obama's parting words to Pope Benedict Friday were that he looked forward to future strong relations between the United States and the Holy See, Pope Benedict told the President: "I thank you for all your work! I'll pray for you!"

The police presence had been tight around the Vatican this week as Heads of State and Government took advantage of the Group of Eight Summit in L'Aquil central Italy to seek audiences with Pope Benedict.

But none was as anticipated as this first encounter between the Pope and the American Leader.

The President arrived shortly after 4 pm local time, in motorcade direct from the G8 summit high in the central Apennines, to the Saint Damaso Courtyard below the papal apartments where an honour guard of the Swiss Guard and Papal Household awaited him, led by Msgr. James Harvey.

After a brief meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone he was led to the ornate papal throne room where Pope Benedict was waiting to greet him.

While pictures were being taken at the start of the meeting, the pope immediately asked president Obama about the summit, to which the president replied: "It was very productive, particularly today".

Doors where then closed on the outside world while the Pope and President retired for private discussions lasting over 20 minutes.

Emerging from their talks, the Pope and President Obama posed for photographs, while the President presented the First Lady and members of his Staff.

Gifts were then exchanged. The US President presented the Holy Father a stole originally belonging to Saint John Neumann, while the Pope in turn presented President Obama a copy of his encyclical and a mosaic of St Peter's Square.

Earlier First Lady Michelle Obama and their children Malia and Sasha had been given a private tour of St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. At shortly after five pm the Presidential family took their leave of the Pope and the Apostolic Palace bound for Ghana Africa.