King: 'It was a deep spiritual  experience'

Updated: March 21, 2007, 12:14 PM ET
Associated Press

VATICAN CITY -- Don King got a front row seat at Pope Benedict XVI's general audience Wednesday.

Don King
AP Photo/Pier Paolo CitoDon King waves American, Italian and Vatican flags during his visit to Vatican City on Wednesday.

The usually flamboyant boxing promoter, wearing a blue suit with his preferred high hair style primly flattened for the papal event, gave the pope a green-and-gold boxing belt and a handwritten letter asking for prayers for people ranging from President Bush to the world's sick and aged.

"I was thrilled to be there. It was a deep spiritual experience," King told The Associated Press after the two-hour open-air audience in St. Peter's Square.

In Rome to discuss possible boxing matches in Italy, King had expressed his wish to meet with the pope.

"Faith is the thing that carries us through," the 75-year-old King said as he walked through St. Peter's Square, waving Italian and Vatican flags and signing autographs.

Don King Productions spokesman Alan Hopper said the Vatican visit was arranged through a boxer King represents -- Italian super welterweight champion Luca Messi, whose brother Alessandro is a Catholic priest.

King was seated in the front row of a special section on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica. He was able to hand the pope the gift and the letter as Benedict drove slowly by in an open jeep at the end of the audience.

King, who spent four years in prison for manslaughter, had hoped for a personal meeting with Benedict. Very few nonchurch people, however, receive private time with the pope during his Wednesday audiences.

Before arriving in Rome, King toured Messi's hometown, Bergamo. During the visit to the northern Italian city, King began a fundraising campaign to restore the city's church of St. Mary Major, which includes frescoed paintings on the walls of a pre-existing church buried underneath.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press