VATICAN CITY -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asked Pope Benedict XVI to pray for him Wednesday, as the Catholic son of Italian immigrants met the head of the church after an audience here.
The pope reportedly thanked Panetta for “helping to protect the world.” Panetta and his delegation joined more than 6,000 others in Pope Paul VI hall to hear a bible verse and blessing in several languages, as well as sing a prayer with the pope in Latin.
The pope’s arrival drew cheers, shouts and applause from across the massive auditorium, and a Brazilian folk band stood up and performed a song when their group was recognized before a blessing. Other groups held up flags and signs.
Panetta first visited Italy with his parents in the 1950s and had his first audience with a pope when he accompanied President Clinton on a visit to Rome. He also had an audience with Pope John Paul II in Washington.
Panetta is in Rome as part of what he says is his last overseas trip as secretary of defense. He visited Portugal on Monday and Spain on Tuesday, and is scheduled to meet with the Italian president, prime minister and minister of defense before traveling to London.