MALCOLM MOORE in Rome | Telegraph
US President George W Bush appealed yesterday for Pope Benedict’s help in turning Cuba away from communism once Fidel Castro is dead. The US wants the Pope to act as an “honest broker”, helping to defrost decades of enmity.
President Bush arrived for his first audience with the pontiff yesterday morning. Mr Bush caused raised eyebrows when he addressed the Pope as “sir” instead of the expected “your holiness”.
The two men sat at a small desk in the Pope’s private library to discuss Cuba, as well as the war in Iraq and the plight of Christians in the Middle East. On his way into the library, the Pope was heard asking Mr Bush whether his meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin had gone well. “Umm. I’ll tell you in a minute,” he said, eyeing reporters.
Mr Bush’s appeal over Cuba came after a leaked memorandum put together by the US State Department warned that the death of Castro could lead to huge instability on the island, as hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles make the 90-mile journey home from Florida. The Church would be the only point to which all Cubans could look for guidance.
On Friday, Castro accused Bush of “trying to deceive the Pope by pretending that the war in Iraq does not exist and is not about oil”.
The Vatican declined to comment specifically on Cuba, but said the two men had discussed “the large ethical and social questions concerning people worldwide”.
The Pope used the meeting to discuss what the Vatican described as “the worrying situation in Iraq”, telling Mr Bush he would like a “regional and negotiated” solution to conflicts in the Middle East.The President’s itinerary in Rome was revised because of fears for his safety as thousands of anti-war protesters filled the city. He had planned to walk around Trastevere. However, the American embassy persuaded Mr Bush to abandon the trip, pointing out that the presidential cavalcade of more than 40 limousines would not fit in the area’s tiny cobbled streets. The embassy warned American tourists to remain in their hotels yesterday to avoid becoming targets of anti-Bush sentiment.