By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
Associated Press Writer
Thu, Nov 27, 2003
VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II received the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual
leader, in an audience Thursday that the Vatican kept extremely low-key to
avoid a further chill in its icy relations with China.
A one-line statement by papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called it a
"brief courtesy visit of strictly religious content."
The Dalai Lama is making a three-day visit to Italy with a message that
countries shouldn't confront China directly on the delicate Tibet issue but
rather befriend it and then work to promote human rights and religious
The Dalai Lama wants autonomy for Tibet, which China has occupied since
1951. He led about 80,000 Tibetans into exile in 1959, and heads a
government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India.
The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner met with members of parliament and a
deputy foreign minister Wednesday. It was not clear whether he would meet
with Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
When asked Wednesday whether he was concerned that China was pressuring
world leaders not to receive him, the Dalai Lama said he had no such
"I do not want to create any embarrassment, any inconvenience," he said. "My
main sort of interest, or main purpose or goal is promotion of human values
and promotion of religious harmony."
He told reporters that while he had no specific issues he wanted to raise
with John Paul he did want to express his appreciation for the pope's work
promoting peace and religious harmony "in spite of his age, his health."
It was the eighth time the pope and the Dalai Lama have met, but Vatican
officials made clear they did not want to hinder attempts for a dialogue
with Beijing by giving the audience a high profile. No reporters were
present and it was not formally announced in advance.
China and the Vatican do not have formal ties and Beijing has demanded that
the Vatican break diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China allows its Catholics to worship only in a state-monitored church with
no official ties to the Vatican. Millions of others belong to an underground
church that remains loyal to the pope, but its priests and members are often
arrested and harassed.