Pope Receives Blair in Farewell Visit

Spoke of Peace and Interreligious Dialogue

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Peace in the Middle East and interreligious dialogue were at the center of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's audience with Benedict XVI.

Blair's 25-minute private audience with the Pope on Saturday was part of the prime minister's farewell tour before he steps down from his post Wednesday.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, archbishop of Westminster, then joined the Holy Father and Blair for further talks.

The prime minister also met separately with Vatican secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, and the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

A release from the Holy See's press office said that the meeting was cordial, and that "some of Prime Minister Blair's significant contributions during his 10 years in office were reviewed."

The note added that "there was also a frank discussion about the current international situation which did not neglect to confront particularly delicate questions such as the conflict in the Middle East and the future of the European Union."

The Vatican statement said that "after an exchange of opinions about some legislation recently approved by the U.K. Parliament, greetings were made to Prime Minister Blair as he prepares to leave office, along with a recognition of the strong desire that he has expressed about committing himself in a special way to work for peace in the Middle East and for interreligious dialogue."

Interreligious dialogue was also one of the themes at the center of a visit by the prime minister to the Catholic Venerable English College in Rome on Saturday.

A Downing Street spokesman said after the audience: "It was a wide ranging, positive and very constructive discussion, focusing principally on the Middle East, international development and interfaith issues."

The prime minister's wife, Cherie, and his staff, also met briefly with the Holy Father.

The prime minister last met with Benedict XVI in June 2006. Tony Blair met with Pope John Paul II in 2003.