Prime Minister `very close' to Catholicism
BY BRUCE JOHNSTON IN SIENA AND JOE JENKINS
TONY BLAIR confided during his Italian holiday near here that he felt "very close" to the Catholic Church, according to the head of the diocese where he was staying.
The detail emerged shortly after the Prime Minister's two-week holiday with his family at the Renaissance villa of Prince Girolamo Strozzi, outside San Gimignano in the Siena area, ended on Saturday. Mr Blair then flew on to Omagh.
Downing Street moved to quosh speculation that the possibility of Mr Blair's conversion to Catholicism was raised during a meeting last Thursday (August 13) between the Prime Minister — an Anglo-Catholic — and Mgr Gaetano Bonicelli. the Archbishop of Siena.
The Catholic Herald has been told by Downing Street that Mr Blair denies that the conversation ever turned to conversion.
It is understood that the Prime Minister "doesn't look very kindly" on the briefing of journalists by Downing Street aides on the sensitive subject of his religious beliefs.
In an interview with The Catholic Herald. Archbishop Bonicelli said that Mr Blair had expressed how close he felt to the Catholic faith at the end of the specially arranged meeting of the two men in the sacristy of San Gimignano's Duomo. "He told it to me when we were both leaving the church," Archbishop Bonicelli said.
"He told me himself that he felt very close to the Catholic Church, and to the world of Catholicism."
The Archbishop added: "I found it normal that he should show such an interest. His
THE HUMAN suffering caused by the Nairobi embassy bomb was intensified by the city's poor medical facilities, a Catholic aid agency said this week.
The agency, Cafod, said that Kenya's inability to cope with the medical emergency after the bombing was the result of structural adjustment policies, which diverted health care funds to pay crippling foreign debts.
"The spectacle of American nationals being flown out of Kenya to be treated in better hospitals in Germany while thousands of injured Kenyans are turned away from overstretched hospitals is obscene," said Barbara Crowther, Cafod's Head of Campaigns.
Although 5000 people were injured in the blast, Nairobi's main public hospital was only equipped to deal with 60 emergencies at a time. wife is Catholic and so are his children.
"1 do not find the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church to be very different anyway, especially in creed.
"I certainly do not consider that what he [the Prime Minister] said in any way amounted to an affirmation of a desire to convert, nor did I interpret it as such."
Mr Blair and his wife Cherie arranged to meet the Archbishop — who was planning to be near San Gimignano for a religious procession last Thursday anyway — after the couple decided to change their plans and not go to Siena.
Archbishop Bonicelli, who had met the Blairs on a previous Tuscan holiday. is understood to have contacted them from San Gimignano last week after learning that they would not visit Siena.
He apparently offered to go to Prince Strozzi's country villa, Cusona. especially in order to see them. But he and the Blairs in the end decided to meet halfway, in San Gimignano's main church.
Mr Blair was said to have worn a jacket and tie, while Mrs Blair was dressed in a mauve décolleté top and a skirt with slits up the side, which suggested that the two were going out after the meeting, which lasted from 6 to 7pm.
When Mr Blair attended Mass with his family on two previous Sundays in the 15th century church next to the Prince's estate, he was said to be "so familiarwith liturgy and responses. that he "hardly needed" his Missal.
He was also thought to have taken communion.