June 26, 2018
Hour of talks with pontiff puts French president’s religious views in spotlight
Emmanuel Macron holds long meeting with Pope Francis
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, who has been accused in France of straining the country’s secular foundations by seeking to mend ties with the Catholic church, has held an unusually long meeting with Pope Francis.
The two men spoke for nearly an hour in the official papal library in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the longest time the pontiff has spent in a meeting with a head of state.
The Vatican said the pair discussed protection of the environment, migration, and multilateral commitment to conflict prevention and resolution, especially in relation to disarmament.
They also spoke about prospects for resolving conflicts in the Middle East and Africa and the future of Europe, it said.
At the end of the private audience, Macron gave the pope a rare copy of Georges Bernanos’ 1936 novel The Diary of a Country Priest.
“I’ve read this book many times and it has done me good. It is a book that I have always loved very much,” the pope told Macron, who was accompanied in the public part of the meeting by his wife, Brigitte.
The pontiff gave Macron a medallion of Martin of Tours, a 4th-century saint who is depicted cutting his cloak in half to give to a beggar in winter.
“This means the vocation of those who govern is to help the poor. We are all poor,” the pope told Macron as he gave him the medallion.
Emmanuel Macron holds long meeting with Pope Francis
As Macron left the library, he and the pontiff exchanged a two-cheek kiss, another unusual gesture between a pope and a visiting head of state.
The Vatican was expected to issue a statement on the themes discussed during the private talks. Previous talks between the pope and a president have never exceeded 50 minutes. The pope spoke to Barack Obama for 50 minutes and Donald Trump for 30 minutes.
Two months ago, Macron called for stronger ties between the state and the Catholic church, a move critics said blurred a line that had kept French government free of religious intervention for generations.
The issue is particularly sensitive in historically Catholic France, where matters of faith and state were separated by law in 1905 and which is now home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish population.
France’s guiding principles also hold that religious observance is a private matter, for all faiths.
Macron was raised in a non-religious family and was baptised a Roman Catholic at his own request when he was 12.
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