Pope Benedict XVI met privately Friday with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, but the Vatican released no details of the low-key visit that was not even listed on the pontiff's official calendar.
The Vatican confirmed "a private courtesy visit on religious topics," but declined to issue further information because of the unofficial nature of the audience.
The Vatican has maintained a low profile on past visits by the Dalai Lama, including his last in 2003 to meet with John Paul II, to avoid a further chill in its icy relations with China.
The Dalai Lama wants autonomy for Tibet, which China has occupied since 1951. He led about 80,000 Tibetans into exile in 1959, and heads a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India.
China's government bars Catholics from having contact with the Vatican and allows worship only in government-monitored churches. Millions remain loyal to the pope and worship in secret, but priests and member of their congregations frequently are detained and harassed.