June 10, 2008
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will play host to US President George W. Bush in an unusual setting in the Vatican gardens when he visits on Friday, spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church will meet with Bush, who headed to Europe early Monday, in the medieval St John’s Tower which was restored under pope John XXIII in the early 1960s and is reserved for illustrious guests.
The pope usually receives foreign dignitaries in the Apostolic library but protocol there rarely leaves room for spontaneity.
In meeting Bush at Saint John’s Tower the pope wanted to pay back some of the warmth showered on him when they met at the White House on April 16, said Lombardi.
The two leaders will have private talks on the first floor of the tower and take a walk in the gardens before bidding farewell to each other at a statue of the Madonna.
Bush will be in Rome Wednesday afternoon as part of a farewell tour of Europe, which will also take in Slovenia, Germany, Italy, France and Britain.
Bush, whose relations with pope John Paul II were tense because of the US-led invasion of Iraq, feels closer to Benedict XVI who appreciates the president’s religious convictions.
Both men prayed privately in the Oval Office during Benedict’s visit to Washington in April.
The two met at the Vatican in June last year.