Pope 'expresses concern over violence in Muslim world'

Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern Thursday about violence in the Muslim world over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed and called for peace and tolerance during an audience with Laura Bush, the US first lady said.

“He talked to me about the worries of terrorism, the worries right now of the violence in Beirut and Damascus and other cities,” Mrs Bush said after the 20-minute meeting in the pope’s private library.

The pontiff, she said, also expressed his hope “and certainly our hope, for peace and for tolerance, for each of us to treat everyone else with respect.”

Benedict also wished Mrs Bush “a peaceful time” in Turin, where she is heading the official US delegation to the Olympics.

“We’re looking forward to the games,” Mrs Bush told the pope as she arrived for the meeting along with her daughter Barbara and the US ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Rooney.

Mrs Bush told reporters after the meeting that she understood the offense Muslims around the world feel about the publication in European newspapers of the prophet caricatures.

“On the other hand, I don’t think violence is the answer. I think that everyone around the world needs to speak out and say ’Let’s stop the violence.’ It’s really not necessary to get the point across that they were offended by those cartoons.”

She said she and the pope discussed the violence briefly, although spoke at greater length about religion and the separation of church and state in the United States.

During the audience, Mrs Bush gave Benedict a small silver bowl engraved with the US presidential seal and the signatures of the president and first lady; the pope in turn gave the first lady and Barbara rosarie and Rooney a Vatican medal.

As she left, the first lady told the pope that the president “sends his best wishes.” She said she would also relay the pope’s good wishes back to him.

She wore a black suit and black lace mantilla, or head covering; Barbara, 24, wore a tight black skirt and top and high-heeled black boots.

The audience kicked off a visit that will take Mrs. Bush to Turin, where she is heading a US Olympic delegation. The games begin Friday and last until February 26.

After the meeting at the Vatican, Mrs Bush lunched with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and visited a Rome hospital where she participated in a panel discussion on breast cancer. The event was organised by the Italian chapter of the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, founded by a friend of the first lady.

“Early detection is the only cure,” Mrs Bush told the crowd.

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