Source AP ©

George W. Bush presents Pope Benedict XVI with walking stick

Walking sticks made by a 62-year-old middle school dropout are owned by Dallas Cowboy football players, a former Dallas mayor, the Texas governor - and now Pope Benedict XVI.

President George W. Bush gave the pope one of Roosevelot Wilkerson's creations during a visit to the Vatican on Saturday. The walking stick is engraved with the Ten Commandments.

Bush described the stick as "a piece of art by a former homeless man from Texas ... Dallas."

"The Ten Commandments?" asked the pope.

"The Ten Commandments, yes, sir," the president responded.

Wilkerson caught a television news report about the president's visit but did not hear the exchange about his walking stick.

"This is the biggest step I've made in my life," said Wilkerson. "God does things in mysterious ways."

Until a few years ago, Wilkerson was homeless. Now, his income comes from the sale of his sticks.

Wilkerson's friend, Susan Nowlin, ships the 5-foot (1.5-meter)-long sticks to people around the United States. Each sells for $75 (56 EUR), although Nowlin said Saturday it may be time to raise the price.

She attended Southern Methodist University with first lady Laura Bush and told Wilkerson a few weeks ago the U.S. State Department had called and said the president wanted to give the pope one of his sticks.

"He was very calm about it," Nowlin said. "He's very calm about everything."

Wilkerson said he has carved his entire life. About 15 years ago, the Dallas native began carving the Ten Commandments on ash and cedar walking sticks. "God gave me this gift," Wilkerson said. "He put the gift in my hand."

He gathers wood for the sticks from the Trinity River banks in southern Dallas. Then Wilkerson shears off the bark with a paring knife and sands the wood to a sleek finish.

At his one-room apartment above an East Dallas laundry, Wilkerson inscribes the first five Commandments lengthwise around the top of the stick. The second five are carved on the bottom half.

"I like to do it for people," he said. "It's something special."

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