17-April-2008 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Oval Office Talk Touches on Iraq, Immigration, Pope and Bush Also Devote "Considerable Time" to Mideast

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- When Benedict XVI and U.S. President George Bush sat down to talk privately in the Oval Office today, their attention turned to a range of issues from Iraq to immigration.

The Pope visited the White House this morning on the first full day of his five-day, two-city U.S. trip. Bush welcomed him with a 9,000-guest party and a huge light yellow cake in celebration of his 81st birthday today.

The president spoke to the Holy Father about his view of the America the Pope will see during his apostolic journey.

"Here in America you'll find a nation of prayer," Bush said. "Millions of Americans have been praying for your visit, and millions look forward to praying with you this week."

He continued: "Here in America you'll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. […] We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built."

The president said that America is a fully modern nation, "yet guided by ancient and eternal truths." And he called it one of the most religious nations on earth.

"This [religiosity] is one of our country's greatest strengths, and one of the reasons that our land remains a beacon of hope and opportunity for millions across the world," Bush continued. "Most of all, Holy Father, you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope. And America and the world need this message."

Benedict XVI himself mentioned the relationship between faith and the secular state in America, when he spoke with journalists en route to the United States on Tuesday.

He lauded the U.S. model of this relationship and suggested that it is something Europe should imitate.

Dignity and life

Later in the morning, the two leaders retreated to the Oval Office for a private meeting. A joint Vatican-U.S. statement reported that the president thanked the Pope for his desire to visit ground zero, where the World Trade Center stood prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The statement said the Pope and Bush discussed a number of topics: "the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defense and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa."

"The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents," the communiqué continued. "They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights."

Among their mutual concerns was the theme of the Middle East.

The statement reported that the Pontiff and Bush "devoted considerable time in their discussions" to this topic.

They particularly focused on "resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the president expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region."

Finally, the statement confirmed that Benedict XVI and Bush discussed the situation of Latin America, and in particular the issue of immigrants.

They expressed "the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families."

Bearing gifts

Benedict XVI presented Bush a gift marking his visit: a mosaic called "St. Peter's Square," based on a printing from the 19th century.

Measuring 60 by 35 centimeters (23.6 by 13.8 inches), the work was completed using polychrome enamels applied with an oil-based adhesive to a metallic base. The adhesive was prepared according to the same centuries-old formula used to affix the mosaics found in St. Peter's Basilica.

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