Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi this evening jokingly told Pope Benedict that he hoped that the ash cloud currently causing air traffic chaos in Europe would delay his departure tomorrow, thus giving him the time to go to Gozo.

The joke was made during a private meeting at the Palace in Valletta before an exchange of gifts.

The Pope smiled, but did not reply.

The cloud of ash from a volcano in Iceland forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights over North and Central Europe. As the cloud drifted southward, the airspace in northern Italy was closed.

The Papal flight, however, took off as scheduled since it was heading south and not into the cloud.

The Pope made reference to Gozo in his address when he arrived in Malta and urged the Maltese to pray to Our Lady Ta' Pinu.

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