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Bush set for Vatican meeting with Pope

Following yesterday's meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, US President George Bush will arrive at the Vatican today for his first meeting with Pope John Paul II in over two years.

Catholic World News says the meeting "clearly holds extraordinary importance in the eyes of officials at both the Vatican and the White House".

The President changed the schedule for a trip to Europe in order to meet with the Holy Father before the John Paul leaves for his short trip to Switzerland. Bush is seeking Vatican support for efforts to set up a transition government in Iraq. Observers also believe that with presidential elections later this year, he is hoping the visit will score points with Catholic voters.

The Pope and the US President are expected to speak privately for about one hour. After their private conversation, which will take place in the library of the apostolic palace, they will exchange formal greetings in the presence of the media. Later, Bush will meet with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

US ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson disclosed that the situation in Iraq is likely to dominate the discussions, with the topics of religious freedom and the worldwide fight against AIDS also likely to figure.

At their last face-to-face meeting in May 2002, Pope John Paul tried in vain to convince the American President that he should not undertake military action in Iraq. Later, just before the war began, the Pope sent Cardinal Pio Laghi as his personal representative to Washington, to meet with President Bush in March 2003.

Pope, President Bush look toward key Friday meeting (Catholic World News 3/6/04)

Rome on security alert for Bush visit (Catholic World News 3/6/04)
Pope back on the road to land of Calvin (Reuters 3/6/04)
Pope expected to tell Bush he is wrong (CathNews 14/5/04)
Bush plan to make election-year visit to pope (CathNews 11/5/04)
Where Bush and the Pope Agree, and Disagree (Zenit 16/2/04)
Bush calls Pope "one of the greatest moral leaders" (CathNews 3/6/03)
Envoy reveals Pope's fears for an "ungovernable" Middle East (CathNews 18/3/03)

4 Jun 2004