Pope Gives Bush a Rare Garden Tour

ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI took U.S. President George W. Bush on a rare stroll through the lush grounds of the Vatican Gardens on Friday, stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily.

"Your eminence, you're looking good," Bush told the pope shortly after arriving at the Vatican, launching the leaders' third visit together.

Normally, VIPs are received in the pope's library in the Apostolic Palace. That is where Bush had his first meeting with Benedict in June 2007.

But in a gesture of appreciation for the hearty welcome Bush gave him in Washington in April, Benedict welcomed the president and first lady Laura Bush near St. John's Tower in the lush Vatican Gardens.

On a brief tour, Benedict and Bush peered out from a tower balcony, and the president seemed awed by what he saw. The pope pointed out St. Peter's dome as he showed Bush the view.

"This is fantastic up here," Bush said. "Thank you so much for showing me this."

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the two leaders had the kind of relationship that allows them to speak frankly. They discussed such issues as human rights, HIV and AIDS in Africa, and poverty around the world, she said.

A statement by the Vatican said the pope had "renewed his gratitude for the warm and special reception he received in the United States of America and at the White House in April and for the commitment in defense of the fundamental moral values."