Pope Francis received President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican for an hour on Friday as France prepares to take on the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The French president met privately with the pope on Nov. 26 before heading into discussions with officials from the Vatican Secretariat of State on “France’s commitment in Lebanon, the Middle East, and Africa,” according to a brief statement from the Vatican.
“In the course of the talks, a number of international issues were discussed, including environmental protection in the light of the outcome of the recent COP26 [climate summit] in Glasgow. There was also an exchange of views on the prospects for the forthcoming French Presidency of the European Union,” the Holy See press office said.
While in Rome, Macron also had a meeting with a delegation from the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio at the Palazzo Farnese on the eve of his papal audience.
The Catholic movement proposed collaboration during the French EU presidency on an international event to promote the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.
Sant’Egidio also advocated for its humanitarian corridors for people fleeing the Syrian, Libyan, and Afghan crises and reported that Macron had assured it that France “will continue its efforts in this direction.”
Macron’s papal audience took place as French Catholics continue to reel from an independent report published last month estimating that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.
A French government official had said that the pope had also scheduled a meeting with the Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), which produced the report, but a French news agency in Rome, I.Media, reported that the meeting is being delayed.
Macron arrived at the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard shortly after 11 a.m. on Friday after signing a new treaty with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi earlier that day.
“[As] founding countries of the EU ... we defend a more integrated, more democratic, more sovereign Europe,″ Macron said at the press conference, according to AFP.
The Italian prime minister highlighted how the treaty will strengthen cooperation in the area of defense.
“To be sovereign, Europe needs to know how to defend its borders. We need to create a real defense,″ Draghi told journalists.
Pope Francis and Macron met privately in the pope’s library before exchanging gifts. A video released by the Vatican showed that when the president asked the 84-year-old pope how he was doing, Francis replied: “I’m still alive,” according to Reuters.
The French president gave the pope a historic first edition of the biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Giovanni Pietro Maffei published in 1585, as well as a modern biography of the Jesuit founder by François Sureau, a member of the Académie Française.
Macron’s Vatican meeting took place a little over a month after French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s Oct. 18 meeting with Pope Francis, in which Castex gifted the pope a jersey signed by Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi, along with an 1836 edition of Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Following his meeting with the pope, Macron also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.
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Earlier this year, Macron visited Iraq for a trip that followed a similar itinerary to Pope Francis’ Iraqi visit, including a meeting with Iraqi Christians at a Catholic church in Mosul that was heavily damaged by the Islamic State.
The French president also met in Baghdad with Iraqi Nobel Prize laureate Nadia Murad, two days after she met with the pope at the Vatican.
After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Macron echoed Pope Francis’ call for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries.
Macron previously visited the Vatican in 2018 for a conversation that touched on Europe’s migrant crisis.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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