King: 'It was a deep spiritual experience'

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

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.