The fact that Pope Benedict XVI will meet with President Barack Obama late in the afternoon of July 10 indicates how important both of them believe it is that they finally get together to talk about issues.
The discussion is likely to include discordant views on topics such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, as well as similar positions on issues such as foreign policy, on which their stances share a fair amount of common ground.
The Pope normally meets heads of state in the morning, but the leaders' schedulers were having trouble finding a mutually convenient date and time when the president is in Italy for a G-8 summit.
This was the only time they could manage, so the Vatican set the meeting for 4 p.m., when the Pope will welcome the president and his wife, Michelle.
Also reflecting Obama's belief in the importance of the meeting is the fact that he won’t arrive in Ghana, the next stop on his foreign tour, until late that evening.
Although the Vatican and the White House mesh on some foreign policy issues, they are poles apart on abortion and stem-cell research.
The United States does not have an ambassador to the Holy See at this time. The position is vacant and Obama nominated a candidate only recently. At the end of May, he picked theology professor Miguel Diaz, whose Senate confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Obama will be in Italy July 8-10 to participate in the G8 summit in L'Aquila, the site of a devastating earthquake in April that killed nearly 300. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to change the summit venue, having it there instead of an island near Sardinia, as a sign of solidarity with the victims.
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