Vice President Cheney brought along a crystal dove of peace when he arrived Tuesday for an audience with Pope John Paul II. When it was time for the vice president and the pontiff to exchange gifts, a papal aide handed Cheney the dove on a platter and he passed it wordlessly to his host as the cameras clicked.

What do you say to the Holy Father?

Not much beyond "Your Holiness," seems to be the protocol. Now maybe the formidable vice president knows what it's like to visit his office.

The pope gently gave the bird one swift stroke, as if to bless it.

At 83, the pontiff is ailing but appeared alert for the visit with the 62-year-old Cheney. The two spent 15 minutes alone together, then the pope received 12 members of the vice president's staff and family.

Cheney is known in Europe as the architect of the Iraq invasion and the pope was vocally opposed to it, so the lengthy visit was a sign from both sides that the administration and the Roman Catholic Church are eager to transcend their differences over the war. The pontiff read a formal greeting that made no overt mention of Iraq. "I encourage you and your fellow citizens to work, at home and abroad, for the growth of international cooperation and solidarity in the service of that peace, which is the deepest aspiration of all men and women," the pope said.

The paper in his hands shook audibly as he read in English, but his words were discernible. He said the American people "have always cherished the values of freedom, justice and equality. . . . In a world of conflict, injustice and division, the human family needs to foster these values in its search for unity, peace and respect for the dignity of all."

Cheney, who is Methodist, made the visit on the final day of a five-day trip through Switzerland and Italy that was aimed at helping the White House reconcile with critics and skeptics of the war. Bush's political operation has focused since his inauguration on winning over Catholic voters, so photos of the visit will be a welcome New Year's gift for Republican officials.

The press corps traveling with Cheney arrived at the Vatican before him and waited in a cobblestone courtyard beneath the opaque windows of the papal apartments in the three-story Apostolic Palace, which is visible from St. Peter's Square. The only bright colors belonged to the Vatican's traditional Swiss Guards, who wear helmets with a band of frilly red feathers across the top, and uniforms of orange, red and blue. The Vatican staff has a bizarre mix of uniforms, from brown-robed friars to an elevator operator with more than a dozen shining buttons on his coat.

Cheney was early for his 11 a.m. appointment. At 10:39, he was led toward the library by a procession of about a dozen ushers in waistcoats and morning jackets, depending on their rank, who are known as papal gentlemen. They were followed by Cheney's wife, Lynne, and one of his two daughters, Liz. Both wore black, as female visitors are instructed to do. After that came several members of Cheney's staff, starting with his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The visitors took the scenic route and were led through the Room of the Sculptors, the Room of the Popes, the Room of the Painters, the Room of the Evangelists, the Room of the Redeemer, the Room of the Madonna, the Room of Saint Catherine, the Room of Saints Peter and Paul, and the Library Antechamber before reaching the Papal Library.

The reporters took a shortcut: They were hustled through an ornate wooden door into a narrow, low-ceilinged passage that led directly to an office outside the library. Papal gentlemen had been ushering bishops and cardinals into the passage all morning.

The pope wore a white zucchetto, or skullcap, and white cassock with a golden ring and a golden cross, which an aide said is the pope's typical attire when he is working around the Vatican. The pontiff occasionally dabbed at his mouth with a handkerchief that he kept neatly folded in his lap.

Chairs for Cheney and the pontiff were set up side by side. Then seven more chairs were arrayed on each side, perpendicular to the men. Two of the chairs went empty.

The men met in a private library on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace, in a room where the staff said popes have been receiving visitors for centuries. A window overlooks St. Peter's Square, with a view of St. Peter's Basilica. The walls are lined with rare books, and a crucifix dominates one wall. The pope lives on the third floor, which includes the window from which he can be seen waving to the throngs in St. Peter's Square at noon on certain days.

After the private meeting, Cheney's wife and daughter were presented by the "prefect of the papal household" before the rest of the party joined them.

To reciprocate for the gift of the dove, the pope handed Cheney a set of 20 silver medals reproducing Vatican masterpieces.

Then the members of Cheney's staff were invited up to greet the pope and receive a gift that had been blessed. The men in Cheney's delegation were given gold-plated brass commemorative medals in a blue box, and the women received rosary beads in a white box. A retainer handed the box to the pope, who gave it to the recipient. Often that was all there was to the exchange, although sometimes he held out a hand in blessing. After one whispered exchange, he crossed himself.

The Vatican then allowed the media entourage traveling with Cheney to be blessed by the pope. The Catholics in the group knelt. This reporter, a Presbyterian, settled for a handshake.

Vice President Cheney presents Pope John Paul II with a crystal dove during his visit to the Vatican. They met privately for 15 minutes.Pope John Paul II greets Vice President Cheney in his private library at the Vatican, where the two exchanged gifts, with Cheney giving the pope a crystal dove of peace.