VATICAN CITY (CN): Prime Minister John Howard met the Pope on Saturday, July 6, in the first papal audience in Rome for an Australian Prime Minister since Bob Hawke’s 1986 visit.
The Prime Minister was taken through some of the most beautiful rooms of the Vatican to private talks in the Pope’s personal library.
As a non-Catholic he did not kiss the Pope’s ring, but shook hands.
Sources with the Prime Minister’s party said the Pope was clearly ailing, but had remarkable energy and was ‘as sharp as a razor blade on his day’.
It is believed Mr Howard wanted to meet the Pope, 82, on behalf of Australia’s Catholics and others who admire the former Polish nationalist, before he was incapacitated by ill health.
He had been briefed that the Pope would allow his visitor to raise many topics during the 15-minute talks, and that he was particularly interested in programs for youth.
But it was considered unlikely the two would discuss two highly sensitive issues on which the Vatican was critical of Australian policy – border-protection policies and legislation to allow embryo stem-cell research.