Italian President Joins Pope for Lunch

Their Friendship Dates Back a Decade

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2005 ( John Paul II invited Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and his wife Franca to lunch Sunday, after the Pope prayed the Angelus with the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The luncheon was «a meeting of a private character, very cordial, on the occasion of the beginning of the New Year,» said Joaquín Navarro Valls, director of the Vatican press office.

With the gesture, the Holy Father wished to renew his congratulations to the Italian president for his 84th birthday in December. Ciampi was visiting China at the time of his birthday.

Over the past decade, a friendship has developed between John Paul II and the Italian president. They first met in June 1993, when Ciampi was prime minister. They have met 11 times.

The Pope and president congratulate each other on their name day (both are called Charles in their native languages) on Nov. 4.

The Holy Father telephoned Ciampi last year when the president was having health problems. The Italian leader fell March 13, and had a pacemaker inserted Oct. 23.

During his Angelus address Jan. 1, the Pope expressed «heartfelt thanks to the president of the Italian republic for his good wishes,» which Ciampi addressed to the Holy Father a day earlier in his own year-end message to fellow Italians.

Ciampi on Dec. 31 said: «As every year, my first good wishes are addressed to His Holiness John Paul II, who, gathering all his forces, launches every day in the world messages of peace, which touch the heart and we make our own.»

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