Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is asking for a little divine intervention as he wraps up his service at the Pentagon.
Panetta is spending this week on a trip to western Europe, with the official purpose of thanking NATO allies for their participation in the Afghanistan war.
Yet the schedule allowed time for the Italian-American Pentagon chief to have an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican today.
Panetta, a Roman Catholic, attended a prayer gathering at the Pius VI Audience Hall with several thousand people.
Along with about two dozen others, Panetta went up on the stage to kiss the pope’s ring.
“Thank you for helping to protect the world,” the pope told him, according to Panetta.
“Pray for me,” Panetta replied.
The trip, which includes stops in Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, is almost certainly his last international outing before he leaves office. President Barack Obama has picked former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to take Panetta’s place.