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World leaders are drawn to the Vatican not because of its emerging economy or potential trade benefits. They come because they want to make personal contact with Pope John Paul II, the spiritual leader of more than one billion Catholics worldwide.
His undeniably influential role in the fall of communism and his tireless efforts for peace, give him great stature on the world stage. But his stands on issues like birth control and abortion, Third World debt, and religious freedom have made him controversial as well.
Critics contend that on some issues he is too theologically conservative for the times, but the steady parade of world leaders has made it plain that he is a man to be reckoned with.
There are few experiences, even for a world leader, as daunting as being escorted through the elaborate halls of the Apostolic Palace. Along the way, thousands of years of history and power make their impression before the leader even lays his eyes on the pope.
A world leader is received by the pope in the private library. Here they will exchange gifts and read statements typical of any state visit. But the Holy See is a religious state, and that means there are variations on normal diplomatic protocol.
In a centuries-old custom, devout Catholics and other admirers kiss the ring of the Holy Father as an act of deference to the Vicar of Christ. As they do so, the pope hands them a rosary to commemorate the visit.
Inside the Vatican: Front Page
St. Peter's Basilica
The Swiss Guards
The Pope's Day
The World's Most Beautiful Stuff
The Holy See
Electing a New Pope
The Secret Archives
The Making of Inside the Vatican
Kids Activity Guide
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