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POPE-OBAMA (UPDATED) Jul-10-2009 (1,120 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope welcomes Obama to Vatican, discusses results of G-8 summit

By Carol Glatz and Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama to the Vatican July 10, and the two discussed world issues addressed at the Group of Eight summit.

As they met, Obama told the pope, "It's a great honor; thank you so much."

The two sat down at a desk in the papal library and began discussing the G-8 summit -- the meeting of the world's wealthy industrialized countries, which concluded that morning in L'Aquila, Italy. The summit focused on the economic crisis, climate change and global tensions.

Pope Benedict told the president, "You must be tired after all these discussions."

The president responded that the meetings marked "great progress" and "something concrete," although the precise topic they were discussing at that point was unclear.

The private meeting lasted more than 30 minutes.

At the end of the meeting, Pope Benedict told the president, "A blessing on all your work and also for you."

The president responded, "Thank you very much. We look forward to a very strong relationship."

Obama arrived at the Vatican shortly before 4 p.m., and a squad of Swiss Guards saluted him in the St. Damasus Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.

U.S. Archbishop James Harvey, prefect of the papal household, was the first to greet the president, and he accompanied Obama to a meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state.

Among the hundreds of people waiting to see Obama pass by on his way to the papal meeting were two members of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles from Ghana.

One of them, Sister Felicia Harry, said: "I think it is good he is visiting the Holy Father. They will get to talk face to face on issues they might not agree on. This is a good opportunity for them to share ideas."

After their closed-door meeting, Obama introduced the pope to his wife, Michelle.

President Obama's entourage also included Gen. James Jones, national security adviser; Mona Sutphen, White House deputy chief of staff; Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications; Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary; and David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president.

Pope Benedict gave Obama a mosaic showing St. Peter's Basilica and Square, an autographed copy of the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth") and a medal marking the fifth year of his pontificate.

The president told the pope the mosaic, which was made in the Vatican's mosaic studio, "was very beautiful" and would have "a place of honor" in the White House.

The president gave the pope a liturgical stole that had been on the remains of St. John Neumann, the first U.S. male citizen to be proclaimed a saint.

St. John Neumann, Philadelphia's fourth bishop, is enshrined in a glass casket under an altar at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia. New vestments have been placed on his remains four times since his 1860 death -- in 1903, 1962, 1989 and 2008.

The saint was a Redemptorist priest, and the Baltimore province of the order gave Obama the stole, which had been removed from the casket in 2008.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters July 8 that he expected the president and pope to have a frank discussion, but he did not expect it to be focused exclusively on their differences.

"I think that there's a lot that they agree on that they'll get a chance to discuss," including "outreach to the Muslim world" and the reduction of nuclear weapons, Gibbs said.

And, he said, even on the issues related to the sanctity of life, there are ways to move forward together "whether it's on something like unintended pregnancy or adoption -- some of those things that I think the pope and the president will get a chance to discuss, and I assume it will be a very frank conversation."

Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats, told Catholic News Service in Rome July 10 that with Obama's visit and the nomination of Miguel Diaz, a theologian, as ambassador to the Holy See, "I think there is a new era about to be launched -- a positive, productive one."

"I think people at the Vatican realize he has some grounding in Catholic social teaching" and that he is able to mobilize and motivate young people for good, Whelan said.

On the issue of abortion, "Obama has taken a third way -- the whole abortion-reduction strategy is not just window dressing," he said. "I think they (Obama administration officials) are very committed to doing something to reduce abortions without resorting to criminalization."

Whelan said studies have shown that poverty has a huge impact on abortion rates and "I think the best thing for the unborn was Obama's economic stimulus package."

McDonough told reporters July 9 that "in many ways the visit is not unlike visits with other heads of state -- that is to say that there are issues on which they'll agree, issues on which they'll disagree, and issues on which they'll agree to continue to work on going forward."

McDonough said Obama had been influenced by Catholic social teaching and by Catholic social service programs, particularly when he worked with Catholic-funded programs as a community organizer in Chicago.

Speaking as a Catholic, the deputy said, "The president, in both his words and in his deeds, expresses many things that many Catholics recognize as fundamental to our teaching.

"One is that the president often refers to the fundamental belief that each person is endowed with dignity," he said, adding that Obama "often underscores that dignity of people is a driving goal in what we hope to accomplish in development policy, for example, and in foreign policy."

Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, told the National Catholic Register the Catholic vision of authentic development includes protecting the dignity of human life, including the unborn.

"There is a way in which both the president's and the pope's view of human dignity coincide, but there's also an area in which they are irreconcilably different," Anderson said in the interview published June 30.

But "there's a possibility for great good to come out of the meeting," he said, especially concerning issues where there is common agreement like the economy, peace in the Middle East and global poverty.

In the early July issue of the Catholic magazine "30 Giorni," Cardinal Georges Cottier, the former theologian of the papal household, said the criticism from the U.S. bishops over Obama's support of legal abortion was justified. But, he said, Obama's expressed commitment to reducing the number of abortions and guaranteeing conscientious objection rights for health workers shows that "his words go in the direction of diminishing the evil."


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