French President Nicolas Sarkozy has met with Pope Benedict XVI amid mounting international criticism, including from the Vatican, of France's crackdown on Roma (Gypsy) travellers.
AFP - French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Friday with Pope Benedict XVI in an audience that was largely seen as a fence-mending visit following France’s controversial crackdown on Gypsies.
Sarkozy’s government has linked Gypsies, or Roma, to crime, dismantled hundreds of their shantytowns and expelled more than 1,000 Roma in recent months, sending them home to Romania and Bulgaria.
The crackdown has been criticized by many Roman Catholics and Benedict himself appeared to weigh in on it with a subtle message about tolerance over the summer.
Speaking in French to pilgrims gathered at his summer residence Aug. 22, Benedict urged people to accept “legitimate human diversity” and asked parents to “educate your children about universal brotherhood,” a statement that was widely interpreted as being directed at France.
Sarkozy arrived about 15 minutes late, looking tense. But by the end of the half-hour visit, he appeared relaxed as he presented the pope with a collection of books and received in exchange a ceramic model and print of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Sarkozy then asked the pope for an extra rosary - the gift Benedict usually gives delegation members traveling with visiting heads of state. Benedict’s personal secretary Monsignor Georg Ganswein fetched one from a drawer and gave it to Sarkozy.
After Sarkozy’s papal audience, Sarkozy was to meet with other Vatican officials and visit St. Peter’s Basilica before lunching with the Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Le Parisien newspaper said Sarkozy’s visit to the Vatican was seen as a chance to repair his image with France’s Catholics, many of whom have been disturbed above all by his “’bling-bling’ image, his relationship to money, and quite simply his way of being.”
The Rev. Philippe Verdin, a Dominican priest who published a book of interviews with Sarkozy in 2004, said Sarkozy was engaged in a “great spiritual quest.”
“He is very intuitive and understands how important prayer is: He’s a man who prays,” Le Parisien newspaper quoted Verdin as saying. “He is very concerned about giving grace to God. I am sure he thanked God for allowing him to meet Carla Bruni.”
Bruni, Sarkozy’s wife, was not attending the papal audience Friday.
Date created : 2010-10-08