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PM visits Pope Benedict

VATICAN CITY (CNS): The Group of Eight summit in L’Aquila, Italy, offered some world leaders the opportunity to squeeze in a visit to meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

The pope then used the occasion to present leaders with a special copy of his first social encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), which the Vatican released July 7, the day before the G-8 summit began.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd met with the pope in a 25-minute closed-door meeting July 9.

Australia is not part of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, but was among the other countries Italy invited.

Rudd, who was raised Catholic but attends an Anglican church, told the pope, “I’m reading your encyclical.”

Rudd has written about the role of a Christian in contemporary politics and wrote in a 2005 essay that he sees the Gospel as “an exhortation to social action.”

In a customary exchange of gifts, the pope gave Rudd a signed, white leather-bound copy of his new encyclical and a pen shaped like a column of the famous baldacchino, or canopy over the main altar, in St Peter’s Basilica done by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Rudd gave the pope a black leather-bound copy of the Australian government’s apology to Aborigines for the wrongs committed against them and the stolen generations forcibly separated from their families.

Rudd, who spearheaded the move to publicly acknowledge past injustices against indigenous peoples, presented the document to the pope and said, “This is a book of my apologies to the native Australians.”

The prime minister also gave the pope a wooden box holding six bottles of sweet rose Australian wine and said, “Think of us Australians when you’re in the Vatican.”

During their private meeting, the pope and Rudd talked about the current issues the world is facing, in particular, “respect for religious liberty and environmental problems,” said a written Vatican statement released after the meeting.

It said the two men also talked about the pope’s July 2008 visit to Australia for World Youth Day and “the great spirit of collaboration” between the church and public authorities in organizing the event.

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