First lady visits Pope John Paul II on Vatican, Italy

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First lady Wu Shu-chen attended Pope John Paul II's Sunday Rosary at Castel Gandolfo, the pontiff's summer residence, and delivered a letter from President Chen Shui-bian that included an offer to help with post-war relief for Iraq.

In the letter, Chen also asked the pope to pray for peace for the people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, saying that Taiwan had experienced the fear of suffering long-term military threats.

The pope moved to his summer residence last week and yesterday held his first mass of the year there.

After the mass, Presidential Office spokesman James Huang pushed Wu in her wheelchair to approach the pope on the podium. She shook hands and chatted with him.

"The first lady congratulated the pope on the 25th anniversary of his assumption of papacy and also expressed good wishes for the pope's health," Huang said.

"The pope thanked the first lady for her sincerity in making the long journey [to see him], and asked her to send his greetings to President Chen and the Taiwanese people."

The letter, delivered by Wu as the president's special representative, was also based on the theme of peace. It said that Taiwan would follow the pope's teachings about peace.

Huang said that Chen mentioned in the letter that the first lady was acting as a special representative for him and the Taiwanese people.

The president said that the first lady's health was not suitable for long-distance travel, but because of her persistence in helping with Taiwan's diplomacy, she never considered the hardship she had to endure.

"The president also mentioned that Taiwan was still under military threat from China, and he hoped that the both China and Taiwan could follow faithfully the pope's peaceful doctrines of truth, justice, love and freedom," Huang said.

"President Chen also expressed Taiwan's willingness to work with the international community to build peace in the Middle East. He hoped that Taiwan could contribute to the post-war relief plan for Iraq, and said he was donating US$100,000 to the Vatican foundation for that cause."

Wu stressed that the pope was not in good health, but perhaps out of the concern for disadvantaged groups, he was not willing to let her, a woman in a wheelchair who traveled long way, to return with nothing accomplished.

So the pope took time out of his busy schedule to talk with her and her delegation, Wu said.

When Wu met the pope, many people were waving the Taiwan and Vatican national flags outside.

Wu had the chance to introduce all the members of her delegation to the pope, and the pope shook hands with the ambassador and officials in the delegation.

After a four-day trip to Berlin, Wu arrived at the Camillians armed forces airport in Rome on a private flight on Saturday afternoon.

Since Taiwan has official diplomatic ties with the Holy See, Wu was greeted with formal ceremonies, including a reception from the commander of the armed forces base and a military escort for the first lady's vehicle.

Yesterday morning she received the secretary-general of the Order of Camillians Fr. Luigi Galvan. She thanked the order for their efforts in setting up hospitals in eastern Taiwan and outlying islands since 1952.

First lady wins hearts and minds

First lady Wu Shu-chen, who has represented President Chen several times on diplomatic trips during the past three years, nevertheless plays down her role as the face of Taiwan overseas.

"If I knew anything about diplomacy, then I would have asked the president to appoint me minister of foreign affairs long ago," she joked recently.

Wu has has become adept at complementing the conservative traditions of the foreign ministry's bureaucratic system with her straightforward and humorous style.

While President Chen Shui-bian focuses on high-level visits to diplomatic allies and boosting ties with the US, and Vice President Annette Lu conducts her "guerilla diplomacy," the first lady uses her ability to travel to countries with no official ties with Taiwan to enhance the country's visibility abroad.

Former Government Information Office director Arthur Iap said that Wu also realized that the essence of a diplomat's humor is to make self-deprecating jokes to entertain the audience.

"She also knows how to create suitable news topics for the media, and play along with media requests," he said. She is also smart enough to know how far each side in a negotiation will give ground and has thoroughly mastered the art of crisis management, he said.

"When Wu Shu-chen visited the US last year and Europe this time, she always makes jokes about how she feels helpless during the long and complicated rituals of a diplomatic occasion," said Joseph Wu , the deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office.

"Like during a dinner party hosted by Taiwan's ambassador to the Vatican in Rome, when the soprano's performance lasted more than half an hour.

"Even though she sang really well, the exhausted and starving Taiwanese delegates were in no mood to appreciate her performance.

"In the end, Wu came to their rescue when she gave her speech, saying, `When the soprano was singing, my stomach was singing too.'

"Her joke immediately soothed the tension and gloom among the delegation," he said.

Wu also has a knack of dealing with the media, understanding their varying needs while maintaining her status.

On a visit to a part of the Berlin Wall with the words "A-bian will surely win" daubed on it, she cooperated with the photographers even though it was very hot.

But she spoke only about the Taiwanese people, mentioning nothing about the presidential election next year.

"And when she was in the presence of our international friends in Berlin, as well as stressing the importance of her visit in boosting the relationship between Taiwan and Germany, she also talked about future developments between Taiwan and Europe. She highlighted the role of her trip to Germany as `a key to Europe,' bestowing her visit with a deeper meaning," said Hu Wei-chen, Taiwan's representative to Germany.

When it comes to her mastery of crisis management, her visit to the US last year provided an excellent example. After she was unexpectedly searched at Los Angeles airport, Wu's immediate response was described by an accompanying diplomats as "grabbing the US government by the throat and making them pay what they should diplomatically."

The diplomat said afterwards that the skill the first lady demonstrated when negotiating with the US officials could almost become a textbook example for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wu was tough and soft at the same time, showing respect to the US officials but insisting on her bottom line.

Her performance turned the crisis into the stimulus for the further development of the relationship between Taiwan and the US. The incident resulted in the first contact between the top-level officials from Taiwan and the US, the diplomat said.

"The first lady suffered, but she helped the president and top-level officials make a diplomatic breakthrough," he said.


(記者溫貴香 梵蒂岡隨行報導)總統夫人吳淑珍昨日以「總統特別代表」身分訪問教廷並與教宗若望保祿二世會晤,當面問候教宗身體健康並轉交陳總統親筆信函,教宗則要吳淑珍代為轉達陳總統與台灣人民問候之意。陳總統在親筆信函中指出,為響應教宗對伊拉克人民與重建工作的關懷,除以捐贈各項物資外,將再捐贈十萬美元,相當台幣三百多萬元,提供普世教會作為伊拉克濟助工作。






(記者溫貴香 義大利羅馬隨行報導)總統夫人吳淑珍包機抵達羅馬Ciampino機場,機場指揮官親自接機,同時懸掛台灣國旗歡迎吳淑珍的來訪,她使用的升降梯是教宗若望保祿二世專用。









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梵蒂岡國務院兩岸事務局局長羅查(Rota Graziosi)、聖伯多祿大教堂總監以及馬爾基沙洛 (FrancescoMarchisano)主教,在聖伯多祿大教堂側門恭迎吳淑珍等人的到來。