Pope Benedict XVI meets with Poland's president

Pope Benedict XVI met Thursday with Poland's president during a visit that was to include talks on the pope's upcoming trip to the homeland of his predecessor, John Paul II. In his first foreign trip since taking office, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife were received by Benedict in a private Vatican audience that underscored the former Solidarity activist and social conservative's commitment to Roman Catholic values.

The Vatican released no immediate details of the talks. Kaczynski planned a news conference later Thursday. Kaczynski was an activist in Poland's democratic anti-communist movement and in August 1980 was an adviser to Lech Walesa's Solidarity trade union. Benedict's Polish-born predecessor, John Paul, was a firm supporter of Solidarity and was credited with helping bring down communism in Poland by supporting the movement.

Kaczynski was also to meet with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state, for discussions that will touch on the pope's planned visit in May to Poland. Kaczynski also plans to lay flowers at John Paul's grave in the grottos under St. Peter's Basilica.

While in Rome on the two-day visit, Kaczynski was to meet with the Italian president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, for talks on European issues and security. Both Italy and Poland are U.S. allies in Iraq.

Kaczynski and his Law and Justice party, which also leads the government, strongly supports the Catholic Church and its opposition to abortion and gay marriage. He was inaugurated Dec. 23 after defeating a pro-market candidate in October balloting, reports the AP. I.L.