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June 26, 2006 Monday

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo meets Pope Benedict XVI in Italy
To strengthen trade, security ties with Western countries

president gloria macapagal arroyoGMA DEPARTURE MESSAGE.
President Gloria Arroyo gives her departure message Sunday morning at the VIP Lounge of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport before boarding her flight to Rome. Beside her are (seated, from left) Presidential Management Staff Head Arthur Yap, Vice President Noli de Castro, and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Standing, from left, are Army commanding general Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Air Force commanding general Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes, AFP Chief of Staff Generoso Senga, National Disaster Coordinating Council Chairman Glenn Rabonza, Science and Technology Undersecretary Graciano Yumul Jr., Philippine National Police chief Director-General Arturo Lomibao, and Philippine Navy flag officer-in-command Rear Admiral Mateo Mayuga. (Ramon I. Samson)

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Monday, President Arroyo met His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican and it was her first time in meeting him who was positioned after the death of Pope John Paul II in April 2005. The President was bringing news of the elimination of the death penalty in the Philippines.

President Arroyo’s meeting with the Pope will reaffirm the special ties between the Philippines and the Vatican, which had strengthened over time during the papacy of the Pope John Paul II, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye earlier said. He said part of Mrs. Arroyo’s agenda during her audience with the Pope was to expand the country’s invitation for a state visit to Manila.

One of the third largest Catholic country in the world is the Philippines and the largest in Asia. Her decision to sign the bill stopping the death penalty was “the best pasalubong [gift]” she could offer to the Pope, President Arroyo said in her departure statement,

T he President said, “For the first time, I am going to have an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, and I will express to him the support of the entire Filipino nation to his papacy. I also want to thank Congress for giving me the chance to bring to him the best gift our country can give: the abolition of the death penalty.”

A report from Office of the Press Secretary website said Mrs. Arroyo arrived at the Ciampino Airport in Rome at 6 p.m. Sunday (12 a.m. in Manila), accompanied by first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, a delegation of Cabinet members, local government officials and a business group. Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See Leonida Vera and Philippine Ambassador to the Republic of Italy Philippe Lhuillier, together with representatives of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, welcomed the delegation. After meeting the Pope, Mrs. Arroyo is scheduled to meet Cardinal Secretary of State His Eminence Angelo Sodano, President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy and Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

The President will also visit the Basilica Crypt of Pope John Paul II. The late Holy Pontiff’s burial place is where Pope John XXIII lay before he was moved to a chapel in 2001 after his beatification. Pope John Paul II lies in a cypress wood coffin, which was put into a sealed zinc coffin and covered by an oak casket.

The President's trip to Italy was meant for enhancing Philippine-Spain cultural diplomatic relations. They will fly to Madrid to meet His Royal Highness King Juan Carlos I.