Vatican: Pope explains why he will not meet world leaders at summit
Vatican City, 3 June (AKI)
The Vatican has moved to play down recent media reports that suggested Pope Benedict XVI was trying to avoid meeting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his visit to Rome. Ahmadinejad is in Italy for the United Nations summit on the global food crisis being held at the Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome.
"With reference to certain journalistic suppositions that have been circulating in the media over the last few days, the press office feels it appropriate to specify that the Holy Father Benedict XVI was not able to respond positively to the requests for private audience he received from heads of state and government," said the Vatican press office in a statement issued on Tuesday. The official statement said that the pontiff was unable to meet various heads of state attending the Rome summit "because of the number of requests, the limited time available, and prior commitments. Some media reports this week claimed that the Pope had cancelled all possible meetings with world leaders to avoid encountering Ahmadinejad. Reports had also said that the Iranian leader was keen to meet Pope Benedict. However an Iranian spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham was quoted in the British daily The Telegraph, saying that Iran had never formally requested an appointment. The Vatican statement said that the Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, has "written personally to each of the leaders concerned" telling each one of them about the Pope's "disappointment at the impossibility, on this occasion, of meeting them personally, and reaffirming his willingness to receive them on a future occasion."