Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pope Benedict Greets President Bush

Pope Benedict welcomed President Bush to the Vatican on Saturday. By most accounts it seems that the Pope was very effective at bringing his concerns forward about the plight of Christians in Iraq. The president clearly recognized the problem as reported by the Age:

US President George W Bush today sought to reassure Pope Benedict XVI over the plight of war-torn Iraq's minority Christians, while later an otherwise peaceful protest against the US leader's visit turned violent.

The Pope "did express deep concern about the Christians inside Iraq", Bush told a news conference in Rome less than a week after a Chaldean priest and three deacons were murdered.

"I assured him we were working hard to make sure that people lived up to the constitution" calling for religious tolerance and honouring "people from different walks of life", Bush said.

The murders last Sunday in northern Iraq were followed three days later by the kidnapping of another priest and five of his parishioners belonging to the Chaldean Catholic church, an autonomous Eastern rite church with upwards of 700,000 followers.

Bush said of his first audience with the Pontiff who was chosen in April 2005: "I was talking to a very smart, loving man. I was in awe, and it was a moving experience for me."

Seeing the Pope and President together is a very powerful image. And I can't help but be more optimistic about the situation for Iraqi Christians. The meeting also makes it clear that the Pope is very effective at making his concerns known:

Bush was spared the more public rebuke he received three years ago when Pope John Paul II, after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bush, began a condemnation of the "deplorable" abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

True to his personality and style of governance, Benedict did not use Bush's presence to make public remarks of substance, and instead chose to deliver his message in private. Bush emerged from the Vatican palace seemingly more subdued.

The only drawback of the meeting is the President's failure to observe protocol calling the Pope "sir" rather than "your Holiness." The White House may still have an opportunity to correct the misstep by referring to the Pope with his proper title on when they post a news brief.

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