Emmanuel Macron and Pope Francis have met for the private talk for the first time. On Tuesday, the two men spoke for nearly an hour in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, ArabNews has learned.
The 40-year-old Macron faced the accusations of straining France’s secular foundations by seeking to mend ties with the Roman Catholic Church. 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 communities.
This week, President had an unusually long and cordial meeting with the pontiff. According to the press office of the Vatican, they spoke for nearly an hour in the official papal library in the Palace, about twice as long as Pope usually spends with heads of state or government. On the agenda were issues like environment, migration, conflict prevention and resolution, especially in the field of disarmament.
At the end of the private part of the audience, Macron gave Francis a rare copy of Goerges Bernanos 1936 book “Diary of a Country Priest.” Francis gave Macron a medallion depicting Martin of Tours, a 4th century saint who is depicted cutting his cloak in half to give it to a beggar in winter.
“This means the vocation of those who govern is to help the poor. We are all poor,” Francis told Macron as he was giving him the medallion.
Amid the pandemic, Emmanuel Macron called for stronger ties between the state and the Catholic Church, a move critics said blurred a line that has kept French government free of religious intervention for generations.
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 baptized a Roman Catholic at his own request when he was 12.
On Tuesday afternoon Macron was due to be installed as the “First and Only Honorary Canon” of the Rome Basilica of St. John’s in Lateran, which is the pope’s cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome. Under a tradition that began in the 15th century when France was a monarchy, the heads of the state are automatically given the title.