ROME - President Bush said Saturday that and he and Pope Benedict XVI discussed the pontiff's deep worries that Christians in Iraq would not be embraced by the Muslim majority.
"We didn't talk about just war," Bush said in a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi during a swing through Europe.
"He was concerned that the society that was evolving would not tolerate the Christian religion. ... He's worrisome about the Christians inside Iraq being mistreated by the Muslim majority."
Bush met with the prime minister several hours after seeing the pope. The two men, meeting each other for the first time, appeared intent to look beyond their differences in Iraq. The pope, in his Easter message, had denounced the "continual slaughter" in Iraq and said that "nothing positive" is happening.
Bush said his meeting with the pope, in which the president stressed his record in fighting AIDS and supporting other humanitarian causes, was a "moving experience."
"I was talking to a very smart, loving man," Bush said.
On an issue back home, Bush said his decision to replace Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reflected the Democratic-led Congress' opposition to the war in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that bitter divisions over the Iraq war on Capitol Hill led the Bush administration to replace Pace Adm. Mike Mullen, currently chief of naval operations.
"Pete Pace is a fine man and a great general and I think the fact that Secretary Gates made the recommendation not to move forward with a renomination speaks to the U.S. Congress and the climate in the U.S. Congress," Bush said.