VATICAN CITY, JUNE 14, 2002 ( John Paul II received Congo President Joseph Kabila in audience, the Pope´s first meeting with the leader who took office in the wake of his father´s assassination.

Kabila arrived today at the Vatican with several Ministers of his government. The 10-minute private audience was held in the Pope´s study.

Kabila has been president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) since January 2001. The central African country of 53.5 million is 41% Catholic, 32% Protestant.

After his meeting with John Paul II, Kabila was received by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.

"The conversation was centered on the Congo, on aggression and the occupation of the country," Kabila later said of the meeting with the Holy Father. "I asked him to continue to pray for the return of peace in the Congo. I asked the same of His Eminence."

"We spoke with the cardinal about relations between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we were able to confirm that relations are very good, and that these relations can be improved with time," the president said.

Congo has experienced a bloodbath since August 1998, the result of a war involving the armies of neighboring countries.