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Abortion Aside, Clinton and Pope 'Share Values' : Religion: Pontiff urges America to 'defend life.' But first meeting between leaders is warm and wide-ranging.


DENVER — Meeting Bill Clinton for the first time, an aging Pope John Paul II on Thursday stressed the "right to life" to a young President who backs abortion rights, but the two found common ground on a range of other social and international issues.

The Pope urged the United States to rededicate itself to its founding moral principles as leader of an international crusade for human rights and "authentic freedom."

The private meeting between the leaders was warm, animated and wide-ranging. In separate remarks the Pope and the President stressed that they had laid the foundation for a close U.S.-Vatican relationship to confront international issues of mutual concern.

Beginning a four-day visit as patron of an international youth festival organized by his church, John Paul was not shy in reiterating his anti-abortion views.

"If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life," John Paul said with Clinton at his side. "All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person."

The Pope's references to abortion Thursday were indirect, non-confrontational and broke no new ground.

In fact, what was clear after Thursday's complimentary public remarks is that John Paul's view of what is wrong with the world and how to fix it is a lot closer to Clinton's than it was to George Bush's or Ronald Reagan's.

The Pope made plain that in his view, one of the most self-evident truths is that the strong have an obligation to help the weak.

"The bounty and providence of God has laid an enormous responsibility on the people and the government of the United States. But that burden is also the opportunity for true greatness," John Paul said. "Together with millions of people around the globe, I share the profound hope that in the present international situation, the United States will spare no effort in advancing authentic freedom and in fostering human rights and solidarity.

"The American people possess the intelligence and will to meet the challenge of rededicating themselves with renewed vigor to fostering the truths on which this country was founded and by which it grew," the Pope said.

Clinton was lavish in his praise of the Pope. "All Americans, without regard to their religion, are all grateful to you, your holiness, for your moral leadership. For we know you were the force to light the spark of freedom over communism in your native Poland and throughout Eastern Europe," Clinton said in his welcoming address.

The two men met alone for 35 minutes at Regis University, a Jesuit school outside Denver, and for another 45 minutes with aides present. The Pope also met Clinton's wife and daughter, giving the family a Bible.

The President called the meeting "cordial and productive," saying that it laid the foundation for a close working relationship with the Vatican. The Pope seconded the view en route to a gigantic rally with young people from around the world.

"We shared many values and perspectives," Clinton said, noting that he and the Pope had addressed social problems that concern them both. They also discussed international topics ranging from Haiti to Somalia to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the move toward full relations between the Vatican and Israel.

"I, like every other person who has ever met him, was profoundly impressed by the depth of his holiness's conviction, the depth of his faith, and the depth of his commitment to continue on his mission," Clinton said.

At Stapleton International Airport, Clinton, a Baptist, reminded an approving Pope that he had been taught by nuns in primary school and by Jesuit priests at university.

"You have been an advocate for peace and justice among nations and peoples, a strong voice calling for an end to hatred and hunger everywhere," said Clinton, who later flew to Oakland for a speech today.

Clinton lauded the Pope for "reminding people blessed with abundance that they must offer special comfort to the poor and the dispossessed. . . . America is a better, strong, more just nation because of the influence that you have had on our world in recent years."

At the World Youth Day gathering, more than 90,000 festive young people jammed Mile High Stadium, their spirits not dampened by occasional rain. Lightning storms illuminated the skies as chains of young pilgrims snaked down the aisles to the field level.

Some of them unfurled their national flags and held them high for others to pass beneath. Others started "the wave" in a scene reminiscent of Dodger Stadium. And several times, they stomped their feet in turn, sending a sonic wave around the stadium.

In between, the crowd watched a huge screen, cheering when live footage of the Pope at Regis University was shown, booing when Clinton appeared.

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