REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (VATICAN)
The Pontiff had a chance to return the hospitality he received from the White House during his trip to Washington:
Via Times Online:
Mr Bush and the Pope held talks for half an hour, after which they gave each other photographs commemorating the Pope’s visit to the White House in April, leading Laura Bush to laugh and exclaim, “We’re giving the same things!” Earlier Mrs Bush greeted the Pope by saying, “How are you, so good to see you, you look great.” Mr Bush alternately addressed the Pope as “Your Holiness” and “Sir” observing “You’ve got a beautiful place here.”
As Mr Bush and the Pope posed for photographs flanked by Mrs Bush and Mary Ann Glendon, the US Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Bush joked to the pontiff, “We are surrounded by impressive women.”
A communique issued by the Vatican said that Mr Bush and the Pope discussed US-European relations, the Middle East and peace efforts in the Holy Land, and globalisation and the world food crisis.
The talks were followed by a stroll around the Vatican gardens and a performance by the Sistine Chapel choir of two motets, one by Palestrina and the other a modern composition by the choir’s conductor, Giuseppe Liberto.
In another unusual gesture the Vatican distributed to journalists a minute-by-minute programme with a cover photograph of St John’s Tower and the Vatican gardens, to underline the exceptional nature of the visit. Mr Bush arrived in a convoy of some 50 vehicles, accompanied by his wife Laura and Mrs Glendon.
The visit has spurred another round of conversion rumors:
The Vatican said that the Pope simply wanted to show his appreciation for the hospitality he was shown on a recent visit to the US. However Marco Politi, the veteran Vatican correspondent of La Repubblica, said that Mr Bush’s unstinting admiration for the Pope had given rise to talk of the President’s possible conversion, by analogy with Tony Blair. Mr Bush is a Methodist and a “born again” evangelical Christian.
Vatican sources said that no conversion process was under way, and could in any case only take place — as in the case of Mr Blair — once Mr Bush had left office.
And The UK Telegraph does more speculating on a possible conversion:
Several Italian newspapers cited Vatican sources suggesting that Mr Bush may be prepared to convert. One source told Il Foglio, an authoritative newspaper, that “Anything is possible, especially for a born-again Christian such as Bush.”
He added that while the Holy See deplored the war in Iraq, “on ethical matters he has always had a line that is practically identical to that of the Vatican.” Mr Bush has spoken out against gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research. He proposed amending the US constitution to “fully protect marriage” as the “union of man and woman as husband and wife”.
He has repeatedly made clear his admiration for Benedict and has even claimed to have read some of the pope’s theological books.
A source close to the Vatican said that Mr Bush was the most “Catholic-minded” president since John F Kennedy, who famously played down his Catholicism. Mr Bush belongs to a Methodist church in Texas and prays at an Episcopal church in Washington.
However, George William Rutler, a New York-based priest who is close to the president, was quoted by the Washington Post earlier this year saying that Mr Bush “is not unaware of how evangelism, by comparison with Catholicism, may seem more limited both theologically and historically”.
Mr Bush has filled the White House with Catholic speech-writers and consultants and is also thought to have asked a Catholic priest to bless the West Wing.
Before he became president, Karl Rove, his former political adviser, invited Catholic intellectuals to Texas to lecture the candidate on the church’s teachings. Mr Bush appointed the Catholic judges Samuel Alito and John Roberts to the Supreme Court.
However, it is thought unlikely that Mr Bush would convert until after he has left office. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, has already converted to Catholicism.
Catholics have noted that during the contested election in 2000, Jeb Bush travelled to Mexico and prayed to the icon of Our Lady of Guadelupe. His victory was announced by the Supreme Court on December 12, the feast day of the Lady of Guadelupe.