The Brazilian president gave the Pope a shirt signed by Pelé and a football signed by retired Brazilian forward and World Cup official Ronaldo. It was expected she would also invite the pontiff formally to this year's World Cup, being held in Brazil in June and July.
By Ben Tavener
SAO PAULO, Brazil - Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has kicked off her latest visit to Europe in Rome with a visit to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis.
It is the third time in under a year that Rousseff had met the head of the Roman Catholic church, who attended last year's World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
The president gave the Pope a shirt signed by Pelé and a football signed by retired Brazilian forward and World Cup official Ronaldo. It was expected she would also invite the pontiff formally to this year's World Cup, being held in Brazil in June and July.
Carlos Antônio Paranhos, from the Itamaraty, Brazil's Ministry of External Relations, said the visit would represent an 'intensification of dialogue,' as Pope Francis's had become a voice to be heard on 'topics dear to Brazil', such as social inclusion and fighting poverty and discrimination, Brazilian media reported.
President Rousseff is in Rome to see the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro Orani Tempesta, being officially made a cardinal at Saturday's consistory, along with 18 other prelates from around the world.
With a new prime minister set to take his place in Italy, it is now unclear whether President Rousseff will meet her Italian counterpart, Giorgio Napolitano, as planned to discuss bilateral investment and Italian companies in Brazil -- such as car manufacturer Fiat, energy company Enel and mobile giant TIM.
However, the Itamaraty said there was no chance that Rousseff would broach the subject of Brazilian Mensalão convict and former deputy Henrique Pizzolato, who fled to Italy -- where he also has citizenship.
Brazil is expected to lodge an official request for the former congressman's extradition on Monday. Legal experts in Brazil have said it is highly unlikely to be granted, given Pizzolato's dual citizenship, although he can be tried for his crimes in Italy, if the justice minister there so desires.
- Link with the EU
After Mass on Sunday, President Rousseff will move on to Brussels to attend Monday's 7th Brazil-EU Summit, which will set out to forge greater ties and discuss projects between Brazil and the European economic bloc.
Reports say that one of the projects to be examined is a possible fibre optic connection between Brazil and the European Union, with Internet security cited as one of the potential benefits.
Rousseff will likely seize on the opportunity to speak about global Internet security and state sovereignty after the United States was accused of spying on the president, Brazil's biggest oil company and citizens' communications in 2013, souring ties between the two countries and leading to President Rousseff calling off a state visit to the US.
Brazil is organizing a seminar in April and is inviting heads of state, CEOs and members of the public to discuss the topic.
The president is also expected to address European objections to the tax regime imposed in Free Economic Zone in Manaus, which some in the EU have said nurtured anti-competitive practices.
The visit will also take in meetings with the president of European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.
Some commentators in Brazil have eyed a strategic edge to President Rousseff's meeting with Pope Francis, mindful of his proven popularity among Brazilians.
The president is seeking a second term in office at general elections this October, against a backdrop of anti-government protests and World Cup preparations beset with problems.
President Rousseff has been on far fewer foreign trips that her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leading some analysts to question whether she has been able to maintain as powerful a presence on the world stage as the country might want.
Brazil is also suffering from a lack in foreign investment in the face of lacklustre performance by its economy, high inflation and unattractive levels of debt.
The government has cut its outlook for the growth in 2014 and announced a major cut in public spending.
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