When the Dalai Lama comes knocking

The Dalai Lama bows to the crowd as he makes his way to the podium during an interfaith service in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. He was joined at the service by several local religious dignitaries representing Catholics and other Christians as well as Muslims, Jews and Hindus. (CNS/Patrick McPartland, Western New York Catholic)Should Pope Benedict meet the Dalai Lama every time he comes knocking on the Vatican’s door?

The question arose after the Vatican said the pope would not be holding an audience with the Tibetan spiritual leader this month. “I would have liked to have seen him. The pope may not have time or he may have other commitments,” the Dalai Lama told reporters after arriving for a 10-day visit in Italy.

Italian news agencies had earlier reported the papal audience was on, citing an unidentified Vatican source. That prompted a negative reaction from China, which views the Dalai Lama as a political agitator for Tibetan separatism. So when the Vatican announced there would be no meeting, some had the impression that the pope was marching to China’s orders.

Vatican sources I spoke with this week said it was silly to think the Vatican is calibrating its activities to please Beijing. At the same time, they said, there’s no doubt that such a meeting would have a political aspect. Although he is Buddhism’s most famous monk, the Dalai Lama is also the leader of the exiled Tibetan government, which was formed after the Chinese communist government took over Tibet in the 1950s.

“The Vatican has to be attentive to the whole picture,” one source said.

Almost lost in the discussion is the fact that Pope Benedict met with the Dalai Lama last year. On that occasion, the Vatican took pains to underline that the encounter was a strictly private discussion on religious topics — so private, in fact, that the meeting was not even listed in the daily log of papal activities.

Sources said this time around, the Vatican had instead suggested that the Dalai Lama might want to meet with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican’s council for interreligious dialogue. As of today, it is uncertain whether such a meeting would take place.

PHOTO: The Dalai Lama bows to the crowd as he makes his way to the podium during an interfaith service in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. He was joined at the service by several local religious dignitaries representing Catholics and other Christians as well as Muslims, Jews and Hindus. (CNS/Patrick McPartland, Western New York Catholic)

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