Pope Francis offered a prayer for Italy on Sunday as Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni became the country’s first female leader.

“And today, at the start of a new government, let us pray for unity and peace in Italy,” the pope said at the end of his Angelus address on Oct. 23.

Hours after the handover ceremony between Meloni and her predecessor Mario Draghi in Rome’s Chigi Palace, the new prime minister thanked Pope Francis for his comments.

Meloni wrote on social media: “I thank His Holiness #PopeFrancis for his thoughts on Italy on this very important day for the government I have the honor to preside over.”

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, sent his “sincerest congratulations” to Meloni after the new government’s swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinal Palace.

“With you also opens a historic page for our country: the new government is the first led by a woman in the role of prime minister,” Zuppi said.

The cardinal highlighted the many challenges that Italy is facing, listing what he described as the Italian bishops’ main concerns: “poverty, the demographic winter, the protection of the elderly, regional disparities, the ecological transition and the energy crisis, employment and job opportunities for young people, the reception and integration of migrants, the streamlining of bureaucratic procedures, and reforms of state democratic structures and electoral law.”

Zuppi added: “Looming over all these is the tragedy of the ongoing war that requires the commitment of all, in full harmony with Europe, in the inescapable and urgent search for a just path that can finally lead to peace.”

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The cardinal promised that the Catholic Church in Italy “will not fail to engage in a constructive dialogue inspired solely by the desire to contribute to the pursuit of the common good of the country and to the protection of the inviolable rights of the person and the community.”

Meloni has described herself in speeches as a Christian and has publicly expressed her admiration for St. John Paul II and her desire to meet Pope Francis in person.

“I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian, and you can’t take that away from me,” she said in a speech in 2019.

Meloni’s party won the general election on Sept. 25 with a platform that supports traditional families, tax cuts, cracking down on illegal immigration, and Italy’s Christian roots. In a speech earlier this year, she said, “no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life.”

The prime minister heads the Brothers of Italy party, which she co-founded in 2012. Before and amid her party’s electoral victory, Meloni’s views have been described in the media as “far-right” and even as “fascist” — labels that she has rejected.

In an interview with Reuters, Meloni dismissed any suggestion that her party was nostalgic for the fascist era and distanced herself from comments she made in 1996, as a teenager, when she said Benito Mussolini “was a good politician.”

Italy’s new government comprises a coalition that includes Matteo Salvini’s League party and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

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Meloni delivered a strong rebuke to Berlusconi last week and said that the former prime minister risked losing influence in the new government after Berlusconi boasted of having recently exchanged gifts of vodka and sparkling Italian red wine with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“Italy, with its head high, is part of Europe and the (NATO) Atlantic alliance,” Meloni said, according to AP. “Whoever doesn’t agree with this cornerstone cannot be part of the government, at the cost of not having a government.”