President Bush sat stoically as the pope read a statement in a voice that was audible, but not easily understood.
ROME (AP) -- President Bush presented America's highest civilian award on Friday to Pope John Paul II, who has expressed fervent opposition to the war in Iraq and called for a speedy return of the country's sovereignty.
The president nodded and smiled as he greeted the 84-year-old pontiff, leaning down to hold his trembling hands. Later, Bush was to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch supporter and U.S. ally in the war.
The president sat stoically as the pope, seated in front of a microphone, read a statement in a voice that was audible, but not easily understood. The hands of the pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, shook as he addressed the president and first lady Laura Bush, slowly, often one word at a time.
"Mr. President, your visit to Rome takes place at a moment of great concern," the pope said, noting conflict in Iraq, the Middle East and terrorism. The pope said he joined the president in honoring the sacrifices of American soldiers who gave their lives in defense of Europe in World War II. "God bless America," he said in conclusion.
The official agenda of Bush's brief European trip is to honor the sacrifices and triumphs of World War II in Italy and France 60 years ago. But the Iraq war looms large in Italy, where most people think the United States should pull troops out, and Bush was making his case anew.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon