Vatican City, Jun 9, 2007 (CNA) - This morning President George W. Bush was received in an audience by Pope Benedict XVI for the first time. The discussions between the two world leaders revolved around the situation in the Middle East, Africa (especially Darfur), and a host of societal issues of concern to Christians.
When the topic of the situation in the Middle East was raised, particular attention was given by the Holy See to the Israeli-Palestinian question, to Lebanon, to the worrying situation in Iraq, and to the critical conditions being experienced by the Christian communities in those places.
The Vatican expressed hope that a "regional" and "negotiated" solution to the conflicts and crises afflicting the region could be found.
At a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi during the president's swing through Europe, Bush said that, "He [Benedict] was concerned that the society that was evolving would not tolerate the Christian religion” and that "the Christians inside Iraq [are] being mistreated by the Muslim majority."
Bush said he assured the pope — whom he described as "very smart, loving man" — that the United States was working hard to ensure that the Iraqi people live up to their constitution in treating Christians fairly.
Bush also mentioned that the topic of their common commitment to Africa. "We talked about our attempts to help the people in Africa deal with HIV/AIDS and malaria and hunger," Bush said. "I reminded him that we've made a significant commitment to that end."
The president promised the Benedict that he'd work to get Congress to double the current U.S. commitment for combating AIDS in Africa to $30 billion over the next five years.
At one point in the meeting, Pope Benedict caught the president off guard when he asked him about his meeting in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has expressed opposition to a U.S. missile shield in Europe and raised eyebrows with suppression of democracy.
"The dialogue with Putin was also good?" the pope asked.
Bush, eyeing photographers and reporters who were about to be escorted from the room, replied: "Umm. I'll tell you in a minute."
The meeting between the pontiff and the president also included an exchange of gifts. The Holy Father presented Bush with a drawing of St. Peter's Basilica, and an official Vatican gold medal.
The president gave the pope a rare first edition of an autobiography of John Carroll, the first archbishop in the United States. Bush also gave the pope lithographs of documents from the National Archives and a Moses walking sticking, made by a former homeless man in Dallas, Texas, who engraved it with the Ten Commandments.
Vatican City, Jun 9, 2007 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI appointed Argentinean Archbishop Leonardo Sandri as new Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, and appointed Archbishop Fernando Filoni, until now Apostolic Nuncio in the Philippines, in his place.
Pope Benedict made both appointments public on Saturday morning, during a visit to the Congregation, where he gave special thanks to Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, the 77-year-old retiring Prefect.
"I am conscious that the Holy Father is entrusting me with the treasure of the liturgical prayer, the spiritual tradition, the monastic life, the life of so many saints, the teachings of the Fathers and of the Doctors of the Eastern Church," Archbishop Sandri said in a statement.
"I renew my absolute fidelity to the requests and directives of Peter's Successor and vicar of Christ," he also said.
Archbishop Sandri was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 18, 1943. He graduated in Theology from the Catholic University of Argentina and has a doctorate in Cannon Law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
He joined the Vatican's Diplomatic service in 1974, working at the Nunciature in Madagascar until 1977, and then from 1977 to 1989 as the Secretary of State. From 1989 to 1991 he was the Counselor to the Apostolic Nunciature in the United States and the Organization of American States.
In 1997 he was ordained as an Archbishop and appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela. In March 2000, he was appointed Apostolic Nuncio in Mexico, and in September that same year, was called to become the "Sostituto," the second highest ranking official for the Church's internal affairs.
As a head of Vatican Congregation, it is expected that Archbishop Sandri will be created a Cardinal at the next Consistory.
The new "Sostituto" is Italian Archbishop Fernando Filoni, born in Manduria (Southern Italy), on April 15 1946. He was ordained a priest on July 3 1970 and joined the Vatican diplomatic service in 1981, working at the nunciatures of Sri Lanka, Iran, Brazil and the Philippines.
In 2001 was ordained as an Archbishop and appointed as the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan and Iraq. In February 2006 he was appointed Nuncio in the Philippines.
According to Vatican sources, the new appointments precede a set of several changes in the Roman Curia, indicating that Benedict’s reorganization of the Curia is not yet complete.