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'Extra Affinity' : First Lady Off to Rome, Will Meet Pontiff

May 03, 1985|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

ROME — Nancy Reagan met Thursday morning in Bonn with the parents of youthful drug abusers, then flew here, saying she is excited about the private audience she will have Saturday with Pope John Paul II.

On a two-day side trip while her husband attends the seven-nation economic summit in West Germany, the First Lady said she feels "an extra affinity" with the pontiff "because of the closeness of the two assassination attempts."

President Reagan was shot by mentally ill gunman John W. Hinckley Jr. in Washington on March 30, 1981. The Pope was shot at the Vatican less than two months later, on May 13, 1981, by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk.

Interviewed on the Air Force jet carrying her between Bonn and Rome, the First Lady said she did not know what she was going to say to the pontiff during their scheduled half-hour meeting. "I think I'm going to listen to what the Pope has to say," she said.

Highlight of Schedule

The visit to John Paul at Vatican City is the highlight of the First Lady's schedule during the Reagans' 10-day stay in Europe.

She will join her husband for his visit Sunday to the German military cemetery at Bitburg, where 49 members of the elite Waffen SS combat units are buried. And that is by far the most talked-about event on the schedule. Holocaust survivors, religious groups and many members of Congress have asked the President to cancel the trip, but he has stood firm.

Recently a White House official said in an interview that Mrs. Reagan was "very upset" about the furor surrounding the cemetery visit. But when asked about the matter Thursday, she said only, "I don't have any comment on that."

She flew to Rome after spending much of the morning with Marianne von Weizsaecker, wife of West German President Richard von Weizsaecker, and a dozen German anti-drug abuse activists. The latter included several parents of young people with drug problems and a director of the German arm of Synanon, a drug rehabilitation organization that has been surrounded by controversy in the United States.

Mrs. Reagan met with the parents in Villa Hammerschmidt, the Von Weizsaeckers' official residence. The parents told her about their children's drug problems, and she listened intently as an interpreter whispered English in her ear.

Presents $5,000 Check

Mrs. Reagan congratulated them for their efforts in forming the new "German Parents Circle" and presented them with a $5,000 check from the National Federation of Parents, an American parents' anti-drug group.

"We find in our country the value of the parent groups is so powerful, I can't begin to tell you," the First Lady told the Germans. "They can perform miracles.

"The government has a certain role--to interdict the flow of drugs and the legal aspects of punishment. But when it comes right down to it, nobody understands, nobody is torn up more than the parents and the child."

She spoke to the group for about 20 minutes, telling them at one point, "All countries have the same problems. All parents are the same. All parents suffer when their child gets involved in drugs."

Similar Stories

After the session, the First Lady told reporters, "The thing that really strikes you the most is the similarities of the stories in each country."

Today, Mrs. Reagan will attend a private lunch with Italian President Sandro Pertini in the Quirinale presidential palace and then will tour the San Carlo Therapeutic Center at Castel Gandolfo, the official summer residence of the Pope.

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