Negotiate over Middle East, Benedict tells Bush
In his first meeting with US President George Bush, Pope Benedict has again called for a "regional and negotiated solution" to conflicts in the Middle East.
"The Holy See once more expressed its hope for a regional and negotiated solution to the conflicts that afflict that region," a Vatican statement, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
President Bush later held talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and other Vatican diplomats.
The statement said talks between Bush and the Pope included discussions about the war in Iraq, including the situation of minority Christians there, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Other topics discussed were Africa, particularly the conflict in Darfur, and Latin America, the statement said.
It was not clear if they discussed the future of post-Castro Cuba, which Bush had said before the meeting he would be willing to discuss with the Pope if the pontiff wanted.
The Vatican statement said they also discussed human rights, religious freedom, "the defence and promotion of life", marriage and the family.
Catholic News reports that during his visit to Rome President Bush also praised the Catholic lay Community of Sant'Egidio for being part of an "international army of compassion" that helps the poor.
President Bush met with what he called "one of the great faith-based organisations in the world" to flesh out ways the US government and Sant'Egidio could further their "common commitment to help the poor, feed the hungry and help eradicate disease."
The round-table discussion on 9 June had been requested by the White House and was held in the US Embassy to Italy rather than the Sant'Egidio headquarters in the centre of Rome due to security concerns.
Present for the hour-long, closed-door meeting were eight representatives from Sant'Egidio, including its founder, Andrea Riccardi. Among the US delegates attending were US Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Rooney, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.
The president of Sant'Egidio, Marco Impagliazzo, told reporters after the meeting that it was "like a fairy tale" getting a call saying President Bush wanted to meet with the community, which has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times for its work in conflict resolution.
Impagliazzo said he told President Bush that many peace negotiations end up becoming "a circus" with too much fanfare and too little substance to show for it. President Bush reportedly told them, "Well, give me an example of positive negotiations where it isn't a circus."
Sant'Egidio delegates told Bush their ideas on how to proceed with getting negotiations off the ground to bring peace in Darfur, but said they "received no explicit request" from Bush for help.
Impagliazzo said Bush praised the group for being "problem solvers" and was impressed with their long history of working for peace and fighting poverty.
Filoni substitutes China expert for Sandri
In another story, UCA News reports that Pope Benedict has named Italian-born Archbishop Fernando Filoni as Substitute for the General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, the third most important position at the Vatican.
The Vatican announced that the experienced diplomat will take up his new role, known by its Italian name Sostituto, on 1 July. He is succeeding Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, 63, who was appointed also on 9 June as Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
With these appointments, Pope Benedict has filled all key Vatican positions with men of his own choosing, 26 months after he was elected pontiff.
Archbishop Filoni has broad experience in Asia and the Middle East. He was born in 1946 in Manduria, southern Italy, and ordained a priest in 1970. After entering the Holy See's diplomatic service in 1981, he worked in Brazil and at the Vatican (1985-89), but mostly in Asia (Sri Lanka, Iran, Philippines). In 1992-2001, he was officially assigned to the apostolic nunciature in the Philippines but based in Hong Kong where, as he told UCA News in 2001, he was on "a study mission."
During that period, Archbishop Filoni grew as an expert in China affairs and was Pope John Paul II's point man as the pontiff reached out to all Chinese bishops as he sought to unify the Catholic Church in the mainland.
Pope Appoints Archbishop Filoni To Vatican's Third Highest Position (UCA News, 11/6/07)
G8 success but Putin's a worry, Bush tells the Pope (Sydney Morning Herald, 11/6/07)
Bush reassures Pope on Iraq's Christians (The Age, 11/6/07)
Pope tells Bush he wants conflicts ended (Sydney Morning Herald, 10/6/07)
Bush, Catholic community discuss poverty, war, Iraqi Christians (Catholic News, 12/6/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Community of Sant'Egidio
Archbishop Fernando Filoni (Catholic-Hierarchy)
Bush sings religious freedom tune at Hanoi Church (CathNews, 20/11/06)
12 Jun 2007