VATICAN CITY, JULY 3, 2001 ( John Paul II received Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today in a private meeting that touched on family life and international solidarity.

A few days after the new government took power, Berlusconi requested a papal audience, before the Holy Father leaves on holiday for the Alps and in anticipation of the G-8 summit in Genoa.

The prime minister gave special importance to the papal meeting, even asking Italian public television for live coverage.

Describing the private meeting, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls told Vatican Radio, "There were discussions on topics that affect Italy: topics that are related to the social doctrine of the Church, such as the development of the individual, attention to the family, parity between public and private schools."

Regarding international topics, Navarro-Valls said the two leaders spoke in particular about "the process of European unification and issues of international solidarity, always keeping in mind the forthcoming G-8 summit in Genoa."

John Paul II was standing in front of his desk in his private library when he received Berlusconi. When the photographers´ flashes died down, the door closed, and Pope and prime minister spoke privately for about half an hour.

As he was leaving, Berlusconi introduced his delegation. "Thank you for what you do for all of us," he said to the Pope, who earlier had expressed his best wishes for the "most important work" that the new Italian executive must undertake.

In an exchange of gifts, the prime minister gave the Pope an 18th-century Russian icon, while the Holy Father gave his guest a modern cameo depicting St. Peter´s crucifixion.

Berlusconi then met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.