By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor in Vatican City
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark met with Pope John Paul II in his private library at the Vatican late Friday (NZ Time) where the Pontiff gave New Zealand a special blessing.
This is believed to be the second time a New Zealand prime minister has met a pontiff at the Vatican, the last being Walter Nash in the 1960s.
Helen Clark gifted the Pope with a small bowl with a mother-of-pearl inlay, and in return, the Pope presented her with silver medals commemorating his silver jubilee depicting the 20 mysteries of the Rosary.
The Pope’s handshake is firm and he appeared alert and animated. Later in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the Pope shows how spirit can overcome human physical frailty. Months ago, the Pope was extremely weak, increasingly frail, and expected to be nearing death. But he is currently enjoying light respite from his illnesses.
The Pope said: “Prime Minister, I am happy to welcome you to the Vatican and through you to greet the people of your nation.
"New Zealanders have always cherished the fundamental values of freedom, justice and peace. Indeed, in the face of aggression or threat they have generously sought to defend and promote such rights in the Pacific and beyond.
"Today in our world so troubled by the scourge of racial division and conflict, I encourage you and your fellow citizens to foster dialogue.
"On acknowledging the fundamental God-given dignity of every person, dialogue leads to a recognition of diversity, while opening the mind to the mutual acceptance and genuine collaboration demanded by the human family's basic vocation to unity.
"Upon you and the people of New Zealand, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of almighty God."
Helen Clark later met the
Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano before
leaving for a bilateral governmental meeting with