Although short, the April 3 encounter between Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth in the Vatican has been described as cordial and informal, during which the two exchanged gifts and casual conversation.
Taking place in the papal office of the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, the official tea between the Bishop of Rome and the British Monarch came after the Queen’s lunch with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, and lasted only 17 minutes.
During the visit, Queen Elizabeth was accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The two were in Rome only for the day, following an initial invitation extended to Her Majesty by President Napolitano last year, which she was not able to accept due to poor health.
Upon their arrival, the Queen apologized for being late, saying “Sorry to keep you waiting. We were having a very pleasant lunch with the president.”
Following the initial greetings, the Pope led the royal couple to the office where they were to have tea, and when he attempted to usher them forward first, Prince Philip responded by telling him “You go first. You need to show us where to go.”
While meeting, the Pope and the Queen exchanged gifts, the Queen offering the pontiff two signed copies of a photo of herself and her husband, telling him “I'm afraid you have to have a photograph. It's inevitable.”
Among the other gifts given to Pope Francis by the Queen was a large basket filled with traditional English goods, which Her Majesty described as including “something from all our estates which is for you personally.”
Pointing to the floor, Queen Elizabeth added that she also brought “two extra bits which would not fit in the basket,” and which consisted of a bottle of whiskey and apple cider.
Drawing attention to a bottle of honey sitting in the basket, the Duke explained that “this is some honey. It's from Buckingham palace,” after which the Queen expressed that it is “from my garden” and that “I hope it will be unusual for you.”
Pope Francis offered the Monarch an orb of blue stone with a silver Cross on top for her great grandson, Prince George, which also contained a silver base with the English engraving in all capital letters “Pope Francis to His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.”
“This is for the little boy,” the Pope told the Queen in Spanish, so which she responded “That is very nice. He will be thrilled by that when he's a little older.”
The Bishop of Rome also gifted to the Queen a copy of the original 1679 decree adding St. Edward of England’s feast day to the Church calendar, which is celebrated every year on Oct. 9, as well as a set of three large medals marked with the face of Pope Francis, one of gold, one of silver, and one of bronze.
Upon receiving the gifts, the Duke of Edinburgh jested, saying of St. Edward, “Oh, he was canonized, wasn't he?” and of the medals, “Oh, it’s the only gold medal I've ever won.”
Queen Elizabeth’s audience with Pope Francis today marks the 87 year old’s fifth encounter with Roman Pontiff, the first being with Pope Pius XII while she was still a princess in 1951, the year before her ascension to the throne.
The second time she met with a Bishop of Rome was in 1961 when she came to the Vatican to meet with Pope John XXIII, who is slated to be canonized by Pope Francis at the end of the month.
Her Majesty became the first monarch since the Reformation to welcome a pope to Britain when she received Bl. John Paul II during his pastoral visit to the country, and in 2010 she also received Benedict XVI in his visit to the United Kingdom.
Present with Pope Francis for the brief encounter was Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary for the Affairs with the States Msgr. Doninique Mamberti, as well as his undersecretary Msgr. Antoine Camilleri.