VATICAN CITY — Nelson Mandela, in an audience Friday with Pope John Paul II, called on the Vatican to take a clear position supporting sanctions against South Africa to pressure Pretoria to dismantle apartheid.
The Pope blessed the African National Congress deputy president in a cordial private audience, but a spokesman said the pontiff would not take a specific stand on sanctions.
The Pope and Mandela spoke alone for 25 minutes in the pontiff's frescoed private study before Mandela's wife, Winnie, led an ANC delegation in for a session with photographers.
"Thanks be to God that we can meet," said the Pope, who in the past has strongly condemned the practice of apartheid and praised Mandela's personal and political struggle.
Mandela said he realized that the Holy See, as a predominantly moral force, has no direct involvement in the sanctions issue. But he asked the Pope to bless the ANC's initiatives.
The Pope, who during a 1988 tour of Africa said he prayed every day for Mandela's freedom, responded: "God bless your initiatives."
Afterward, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Pope would not take a specific stand on sanctions, which the spokesman called "an exquisitely political issue."
Friday morning, Mandela received honorary citizenship of Rome and said the award recognized the struggle of his people against "one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes the world has ever seen."
Later, he told a news conference that he does not share the pessimism of some observers that the European Community might decide at its Dublin summit June 25 to dismantle sanctions against the Pretoria government of Frederik W. de Klerk.
Rome takes over presidency of the European Community on July 1 for six months. Mandela said that Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti and the African Nation Council ANC "see eye to eye" on sanctions, agreeing that European countries should maintain the measures at least for the time being.