By JOHN THAVIS, CNS | Published January 29, 2004
Pope John Paul II met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney at the Vatican and emphasized the need for international cooperation in resolving conflicts around the world.
“I encourage you and your fellow citizens to work, at home and abroad, for the growth of international cooperation and solidarity in the service of that peace which is the deepest aspiration of all men and women,” the pope said Jan. 27.
The pope, looking alert and speaking clearly, read a brief speech following 15 minutes of private talks with Cheney in the papal library. The vice president later met with other top Vatican officials for discussions that touched upon Iraq, the Middle East and a wider range of moral and public policy issues, according to a Vatican statement.
It was the pope’s first meeting with Cheney and his highest-level audience with a U.S. official following the Iraqi war, which the pope and his aides strongly opposed. The vice president, a former secretary of defense, was one of the chief planners of the war.
After posing for photographers, the pope read his five-sentence speech thanking Cheney for the visit and invoking “abundant blessings” on the American people.
“The American people have always cherished the fundamental values of freedom, justice and equality,” the pope said.
“In a world marked by conflict, injustice and division, the human family needs to foster these values in its search for unity, peace and respect for the dignity of all,” he said.
Both men remained seated throughout the encounter. Cheney presented the pontiff with a gift of a crystal dove, which the pope stroked gently in appreciation. In return, the pope gave the Cheney family a set of silver Vatican medallions.
Then the pontiff greeted Cheney’s wife, Lynne, his daughter, Liz, and 12 others in the delegation. At the end of the meeting, in a slight break with Vatican protocol, some 15-20 other aides and reporters traveling with Cheney were led into the library, and the pope handed each of them a medallion or rosary.
The atmosphere in the room seemed cordial and somewhat reserved; the pope made no extemporaneous remarks during the photo session, as he often does with visiting dignitaries.
Cheney was visiting Europe in large part to bolster support for the Bush administration’s ongoing anti-terrorism campaign around the world.
While in recent weeks the Vatican has denounced international terrorism in strong language, the pope’s brief talk to Cheney did not specifically mention terrorism, nor did a Vatican statement listing the topics of Cheney’s subsequent talks with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and his assistant, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo.
“In the course of these talks there was an exchange of opinions on the international situation, with particular attention to the peace process in the Holy Land and developments in Iraq,” the Vatican statement said.
The Vatican said the discussions also included “moral and religious problems that today affect the lives of states, especially those concerning the defense and promotion of life, of the family, of solidarity and of religious freedom.”
U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, who accompanied Cheney to his airport departure, said terrorism was a main topic in the vice president’s talks with the pope and other Vatican officials.
Nicholson, who participated in Cheney’s meeting with Cardinal Sodano, said the discussions on Iraq had highlighted a shared concern about the democratic future of the country.
“I think (Vatican officials) are generally quite pleased with what’s happening in Iraq,” Nicholson told Catholic News Service after the meeting.
“Their real concern is that the result in Iraq is a government freely chosen that protects the rights, including the right to worship, of the minorities,” he said. Those safeguards are also important to the Bush administration, he said.
Although the pope argued against the use of force in Iraq last year, he noted recently that Iraqis had been relieved of an oppressive regime.
Nicholson said that on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Vatican officials insisted that ending this conflict was the key to bringing peace to the broader Middle East region, and that they would like to see more successful U.S. mediation.
“I think they’d like us to do the same thing we’d like to do, which is to move the process, get the parties to stop the violence and start talking, so we can get to the two-state solution,” Nicholson said.
“But, as Vice President Cheney pointed out to Cardinal Sodano, this president has gone further than any other in advocating and pushing for the two-state solution,” he said. Unfortunately, Nicholson said, violence keeps breaking out and the process is short-circuited.
“I think it was a point very well made by the vice president, and they get it. Nobody wants peace there any more than the United States does,” he said.
Nicholson said Cheney had come away from his first papal audience “impressed with the pope’s keen world view and his grasp of the issues.”
“It was a wonderful visit, reflecting, I think, the priority which the United States attaches to our relationship with the Holy See and the Holy Father,” Nicholson said.