VALENCIA, Spain, JULY 9, 2006 ( Pope Benedict XVI and Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero met for the first time on Saturday at the archbishop's residence in Valencia.

The meeting began with a private conversation between the Holy Father and the president in which, according to government sources, "very important" current issues were discussed, such as the future of Europe, the family, immigration, the situation in Africa and peace.

Vice President María Teresa Fernández de la Vega then joined the meeting because, as she explained, she is the person designated to represent the executive in relations with the Catholic Church.

In this connection, the Pope requested the collaboration of the government to resolve the disagreements between the socialist government and the Church, according to Vatican sources.

Later, the president introduced his wife, Sonsoles Espinosa, and some of his collaborators.

Benedict XVI gave Zapatero a facsimile copy of the Codex Vaticanus of 1209.

He, in turn, gave the Pope a picture entitled Self-Portrait of Rembrandt II, by Spanish painter Manolo Valdés.

The vice president gave the Holy Father a book by Leonor de la Vega, sister of the poet Garcilaso de la Vega.

Neither the president nor the vice president attended the closing Mass today.


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