The Pope reminded President Bush of the Catholic Church's grave concerns about events in Iraq and the Holy Land during their meeting this morning. As anti-war protesters marched through Rome, Pope John Paul welcomed President Bush to the Vatican for his third visit. Their previous encounters took place at Castelgandolfo in July, 2001 following the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, and in May 2002 in Rome. In his address to the American president, his wife and the delegation accompanying them, the Holy Father thanked him "for wishing to meet with me again, in spite of the difficulties presented by your own many commitments during this present visit to Europe and Italy, and by my own departure tomorrow morning for a meeting with young people in Switzerland." The Pope noted that the president's trip is "to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War and to honour the memory of the many American soldiers who gave their lives for their country and for the freedom of the peoples of Europe. I join you in recalling the sacrifice of those valiant dead and in asking the Lord that the mistakes of the past, which gave rise to appalling tragedies, may never again be repeated. Today I too think back with great emotion on the many Polish soldiers who died for the freedom of Europe." John Paul II also noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States under President Reagan. "I send my regards to President Reagan and to Mrs. Reagan, who is so attentive to him in his illness." "Your visit to Rome," said the Pope, "takes place at a moment of great concern for the continuing situation of grave unrest in the Middle East, both in Iraq and in the Holy Land. You are very familiar with the unequivocal position of the Holy See in this regard, expressed in numerous documents, through direct and indirect contacts, and in the many diplomatic efforts which have been made since you visited me" in 2001. "It is the evident desire of everyone that this situation now be normalized as quickly as possible with the active participation of the international community and, in particular, the United Nations Organization, in order to ensure a speedy return of Iraq's sovereignty, in conditions of security for all its people. The recent appointment of a Head of State in Iraq and the formation of an interim Iraqi government are an encouraging step towards the attainment of this goal. May a similar hope for peace also be rekindled in the Holy Land and lead to new negotiations, dictated by a sincere and determined commitment to dialogue, between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority." John Paul II stated that "the threat of international terrorism remains a source of constant concern. It has seriously affected normal and peaceful relations between States and peoples since the tragic date of 11 September 2001, which I have not hesitated to call 'a dark day in the history of humanity'. In the past few weeks other deplorable events have come to light which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all, and made more difficult a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values: in the absence of such a commitment neither war nor terrorism will ever be overcome. May God grant strength and success to all those who do not cease to hope and work for understanding between peoples, in respect for the security and rights of all nations and of every man and woman." He told the president he appreciated his "commitment to the promotion of moral values in American society, particularly with regard to respect for life and the family." And he urged "a fuller and deeper understanding between the United States of America and Europe will surely play a decisive role in resolving the great problems which I have mentioned." President Bush presented the Pope with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil honour that is bestowed in America, saying that Pope John Paul "has championed the cause of the poor, the weak, the hungry and the outcast. He has defended the unique dignity of every life and the goodness of all life. Through his faith and moral conviction, he has given courage to others to 'be not afraid' in overcoming injustice and oppression. His principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple communism and tyranny. The United States honours this son of Poland who became the Bishop of Rome and a hero of our time."
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