Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, met Pope Benedict XVI last week in a private meeting which the Vatican played down for diplomatic reasons. The visit was ‘private’ and focused exclusively on ‘religious’ matters, a spokesman said. According to Vatican watchers, the visit was kept as low key as possible in order to avoid angering China, with which the Catholic Church has an already strained relationship. The Vatican broke off relations with China in 1951, after the Communist revolution, and since then the country’s roughly 8 million Catholics faithful to Rome have been persecuted and driven underground.
The pope’s meeting with the Tibetan leader was not listed among his official audiences. Journalists were kept well away and no pictures of the encounter have been released. The Dalai Lama is seen by Beijing as a ‘political plotter’ who aims to split the country. He does not recognise Chinese rule in Tibet and in 1989 won the Nobel peace prize for his non-violent opposition to it. The 71-year-old leader has abandoned former demands for full independence for the 6 million Tibetans and now calls for a ‘one country, two systems’ formula which would preserve Tibet’s culture and spirituality. Neither the Vatican nor the Dalai Lama gave any indication that their respective grievances had been discussed during the meeting.
The Dalai Lama arrived in Italy earlier this week for a visit, which included meetings with institutional figures but not the president or premier.On Thursday, he met Senate Speaker Franco Marini and House Speaker Fausto Bertinotti, explaining that his people are ‘not asking for independence but real autonomy.’ ‘Now in Tibet there is greater repression and I am considered a separatist, while in fact I work for unity,’ he continued. Bertinotti said he ‘fully supported (the Dalai Lama’s) nonviolent battle.’