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Vatican City – New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Wednesday (Apr. 15), hours before a Catholic group lit up Rome’s Coliseum to honor New Mexico’s recent abolition of the death penalty.
Richardson, a former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, led a state delegation to Rome for the evening lighting ceremony, which was sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic group whose activities include a world-wide campaign against capital punishment.
Earlier in the day, Richardson attended Benedict’s weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square, where he was seated in the front row of spectators, along with Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe.
Following the audience, Sheehan introduced the governor to the pope, saying “Holy Father, this is our governor and he just repealed the death penalty,” to which the pope “nodded very happily in agreement,” the archbishop later told reporters.
According to Catholic News Service, Richardson asked Benedict to bless a silver olive branch, a gift from Sant’Egidio honoring his decision last month to sign the state law repealing the death penalty.
A spokesman for Richardson told the Reuters news agency that the governor and the pope spoke for “several minutes,” and discussed the death penalty “among other issues.”
There were no reports that either of the men mentioned legalized abortion or embryonic stem-cell research, both of which the church forbids and Richardson supports.
In a February meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic and a supporter of abortion rights who has publicly disputed the Vatican’s position on the subject, Benedict lectured Pelosi on the “church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”

By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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