Friday in the Park with George
This morning, Friday 13 June 2008, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America was received in audience by His Holiness Benedict XVI....and Pool report:
In order to respond to the cordiality of the welcome received by the Supreme Pontiff during his recent visit to the United States of America, the audience followed a special protocol. The Holy Father greeted President Bush - who was accompanied by his wife Laura and by Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See - at the entrance to the Tower of St. John located in the Vatican Gardens. His Holiness and the President of the United States then went to the study on the upper floor of the tower for a private meeting, while Laura Bush and Ambassador Glendon remained with Archbishop James Michael Harvey, prefect of the Pontifical Household. Subsequently they were joined by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
During the cordial talks, the Holy Father firstly reiterated his gratitude for the warm and exceptional welcome he had received in the United States of America and at the White House during his visit there in April, and for the president's commitment in defence of fundamental moral values. The discussions them turned to the main themes of international politics: relations between the United States of America and Europe, the Middle East and efforts for peace in the Holy Land, globalisation, the food crisis and international trade, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
At the end of the meeting, and following the exchange of gifts, Benedict XVI and President Bush took a brief stroll in the Vatican Gardens to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes where they were joined by Mrs Bush and the entourage. There, the Choir of the Sistine Chapel sang two hymns.
"Such an honor, such an honor," Bush said to the pope.PHOTOS: Reuters
After the meeting in the tower, they stood on a terrace to take in the view of 44 hectares (108 acres) of manicured gardens, buildings, ancient walls and St Peter's Basilica that make up Vatican City.
Bush asked: "How big is it?" A Vatican aide responded: "Not quite as big as Texas." Bush then said: "Yes but more important ... this is spectacular."
The talks in the tower, walk in the gardens and a performance by the Sistine Choir as the two sat on wooden lawn chairs were a break with normal protocol.
It was the first time a meeting with a head of state at the Vatican was not held in the pope's private study and was meant to repay Bush for the warm White House lawn reception the pope got in April on his 81st birthday.
Security around the Vatican was tight, with police lining the streets, anti-terrorist sharpshooters in nearby buildings and even secondary streets closed off in case Bush had to leave the area in an emergency via an alternative route.
The head of Vatican security, Domenico Giani, told the Holy See's newspaper this week that two new permanent anti-terrorism units had been set up in the mini-state and would be working together with Italian and American security during the visit....
La Repubblica newspaper said not everyone in the Vatican was happy to see Benedict giving Bush special treatment. It quoted unnamed monsignors recalling that Bush did not heed the late John Paul's warnings against invading Iraq.
But one Vatican official close to the pope told Reuters early on Friday: "The pope is doing this because he is a gentleman. That's the long and short of it."