WASHINGTON – Two months after hosting Pope Benedict XVI at the White House, President George W. Bush and first lady Laura President Bush will visit the Vatican during a June 9-16 European trip, the White House announced May 20.
“The president will begin his trip by participating in the annual U.S.-European Union summit in Slovenia,” the announcement said. “Following the summit, the president and Mrs. Bush will visit Germany, Italy, the Holy See, France and the United Kingdom.”
Although the White House released no itinerary and the Vatican did not officially confirm the president’s visit, Vatican sources said it was expected to take place June 13.
The White House said the Bushes’ trip to Europe was designed “to strengthen the trans-Atlantic partnership and to celebrate the enduring friendship between our nations based on shared democratic values.”
“The president and Mrs. Bush’s visit will also commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift, underscoring the historic and continuing U.S. role in supporting a Europe increasingly whole, free and at peace,” the announcement added.
The Marshall Plan was a U.S. program for the economic recovery of Europe after World War II. The Berlin Airlift was an operation conducted by the U.S. and its allies to get needed supplies into West Berlin during a Soviet blockade.
During their April 16 meeting at the White House, President Bush and Pope Benedict discussed the problem of terrorism and how to confront it while respecting human rights. They also expressed joint concern for the protection of human life, marriage and the family, according to a statement issued after the private meeting.
The Washington meeting also marked Pope Benedict’s 81st birthday.
The two leaders met previously at the Vatican in June 2007, with their talks focusing on the precarious situation of Christians in Iraq and other conflicts in the Middle East.
The pope and the president also examined moral and religious questions, including “the defense and promotion of life, marriage and the family,” the Vatican said in a statement.