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Pentagon chief Panetta meets Pope Benedict

By The Associated Press

This article was published January 16, 2013 at 7:53 a.m.

— U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the leader of the world’s largest military, met Pope Benedict XVI, the world’s best known advocate for peace, at the Vatican on Wednesday.

Panetta was in the front row at Wednesday’s weekly general audience in the Vatican auditorium. About 1,000 people were crowded into the room.

After the Pope addressed the gathering, Panetta and several staff members lined up to meet the pontiff, who gave them rosaries.

Panetta kissed the Pope’s hand, and the Pope said, “Thank you for helping to protect the world.”

The Pentagon boss responded, “Pray for me.”

Panetta, a staunch Catholic, is in Rome as part of a week-long swing across Europe, meeting with defense ministers to talk about ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Mali. This is expected to be Panetta’s last overseas trip as Pentagon chief, as he long has planned to step down once his replacement is confirmed.

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