.- Don King was front row at Pope Benedict XVI's weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square yesterday. The eccentric boxing promoter told the Associated Press that he was thrilled to be there and that it offered him a deep spiritual experience. His normally wild hair was even combed down for the event.
Seated in the front row of a special section on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, King was able to hand Benedict a gift as the Pontiff rode by in an open jeep at the end of the audience.
King gave the Pope a green-and-gold boxing belt and a handwritten letter asking for prayers for a range of people, from President George Bush to the world’s sick and infirm.
"Faith is the thing that carries us through," the 75-year-old King reportedly said as he walked through St. Peter's Square, waving Italian and Vatican flags and signing autographs.
King was in Italy to discuss possible boxing matches, when he expressed his wish to meet the Pope. King, who spent four years in prison for manslaughter, had hoped for a personal meeting, but such private meetings have been harder to come by in the Pontificate of Benedict XVI.
Don King Productions spokesman Alan Hopper said the visit was arranged through a boxer King represents — Italian super welterweight champion Luca Messi, whose brother is a priest.
Before arriving in Rome, King toured Messi's hometown, Bergamo, where he began a fundraising campaign to restore the northern city's St. Mary Major Church.