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US Secretary of State meets Vatican Secretary of State

Vatican City, 15 January 2014: Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, hosted a lengthy meeting on Tuesday with his U.S. counterpart, John Kerry, to discuss ongoing tensions in the Middle East, as well as the U.S. bishops' concerns about the Obama administration's health care mandate.

"The meeting was very broad; it lasted about one hour and 40 minutes," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman. ‘Also present at the meeting were the United States Ambassador to the Holy See and three staff members of the United State's Secretary of State. Present for the Vatican beside the Secretary of State were the Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Mamberti and two other Curia officials versed in the related discussions, he added.

"Various themes were discussed and naturally those regarded the Middle East first of all -- the situation in Syria and preparations for the (upcoming peace) conference in Geneva," Father Lombardi said, referring to the U.N.-sponsored peace talks scheduled for Jan. 22.
The Vatican's top concerns, he said, are to restore peace, address the serious humanitarian situation and help the suffering Syrian population.

The two secretaries of state "also discussed the United States, especially the themes that have been the object of concern and discussion by the U.S. bishops: the health care reform and its relationship to guarantees of religious freedom," Father Lombardi said.

In remarks later to members of the press traveling with him, Kerry said, "it was a privilege for me as the first Catholic secretary of state in about 32 or 33 years ... to talk with the new secretary of state there about the broad array of issues that we face together across the world. And on a personal level, it was a thrill for me to be able to do that; as an altar boy as a young kid, I would never have imagined that I would have been crossing the threshold of the Vatican to meet, as secretary of state, with the secretary of state of the Holy See."

Cardinal-designate Parolin and Kerry "also discussed negotiations between Israel and Palestine, in which the American secretary of state has been deeply involved, as you know," Father Lombardi said.

Kerry told reporters, "Archbishop Parolin asked me for a solid briefing with respect to the Middle East peace process. Pope Francis will be going to Israel and the Palestinian territories and to Jordan in May, and so we agreed, after I gave a briefing, that we would stay in touch in order to keep him abreast of what we're doing and then what progress there may be in the peace process."
Father Lombardi said the two also spoke about Africa, "particularly about the situation in South Sudan, which has been deteriorating recently, and the hopes that the mediation underway will succeed."

Kerry said: "There is a large Catholic population in South Sudan. President (Salva) Kiir, himself, is Catholic, and I think that our efforts over the last days could be augmented by the efforts of the Holy See with respect to trying to end the violence and bring about a peaceful resolution." Kerry also said he and his Vatican hosts discussed Cuba and the need to promote respect for religious freedom and human rights on the island.

Father Lombardi said Cardinal-designate Parolin also was pleased with the discussions, the climate of the meeting and the opportunity to discuss a variety of themes and share concerns. "There was a positive atmosphere and it was a fruitful encounter," Father Lombardi said Cardinal-designate Parolin told him.Source. CNS