MILAN (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama said on Friday he was sorry he could not see Pope Benedict during a 10-day visit to Italy in which most politicians have shied away from meeting him.
China sees the Dalai Lama’s world wanderings as a serious diplomatic offence and the Chinese ambassador to Italy called on politicians not to meet the Dalai Lama, local media have said.
The Tibetan spiritual leader expressed his esteem for the head of the Catholic Church, recalling that the destination of his first visit to Europe, in 1973, was Italy, precisely because it was home to the Pope.
But the Vatican has ruled out any meetings with the head of the Catholic Church this time around.
“In the past, every time I came to Italy I met (the Pope). This time the Pope has had some difficulties ... I am sorry about it,” the Dalai Lama, 72, told Italian daily La Repubblica, adding he missed former Pope John Paul II very much.
Pope Benedict, who has made improving ties with China a goal of his pontificate, had a strictly private meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader in October last year.
“I have met Pope (Joseph) Ratzinger once. He told me how important it is to reconcile faith and reason, a wonderful thing,” the Dalai Lama said.
The Dalai Lama arrived in Milan on December 5 and will also visit Udine, Rome and Turin. So far only the head of the northern region of Lombardy has accepted to meet him at an official level with no meetings scheduled at government level.
Braving the winter cold, the Dalai Lama appeared on Friday at the Lombardy region headquarters wearing his trademark purple-and-orange gown and flip-flops to meet President Roberto Formigoni.
As the Beijing 2008 Olympics near, the Dalai Lama has been racking up air miles to meet western leaders.
This year he met U.S. President George W. Bush and the leaders of Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
When asked about Chinese comments while on his way to meet thousands of Italian followers, the Dalai Lama told reporters: “They have the freedom to say what they want.”
“It’s absolutely wrong to isolate China and people have the moral responsibility to bring China into the world community,” he also said.
“But in certain principles you should be firm, although within an atmosphere of genuine friendship.”
Reporting by Lisa Jucca; Editing by Stephen Weeks