Papal audience for Irish President ahead of next year's World Meeting of Families

22 May 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

Higgins has put climate change and concern for refugees high on the agenda

Two days before a meeting with President Donald Trump where the potential for disagreement is high, Pope Francis this morning met a head of state very with whom he is very much on the same page.  

The Latin American pontiff today received the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, a leader who has put climate change and concern for refugees high on the agenda. President Trump, however, who is meeting the Pope on Wednesday, has clashed with Francis on migrants and expressed scepticism about man-made impact on the environment. 

President Higgins’ visit comes six months after outgoing Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, had a papal audience after which he confirmed the Pope would be coming to Ireland in 2018. While their discussions took place behind closed doors, it is likely that the President once again extended the invitation for Francis to visit the country. It is highly likely that the Pope will travel to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families gathering at the end of 2018.  

At the end of a seemingly warm and friendly encounter, President Higgins gave the Pope a “climate bell” designed by artist Vivienne Roche and is meant to represent a call to action on protecting the planet. 

“This is a very important symbol” the president told Francis before briefly ringing the bell. 

For his part, the Pope gave the president his landmark encyclical on climate change, Laudato si’, and his two apostolic exhortations, Evangelli Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia. He also presented the President with a medallion designed to represent the saying from Isaiah 32:15 which states “the desert will become a fertile ground.”    

The Irish president was this morning given the traditional welcome for visiting heads of state to the Vatican. He was walked through the frescoed rooms of the Vatican’s apostolic palace by men dressed in white tie and then introduced to the Pope for their meeting, which lasted 15 minutes.

The audience took place inside the papal library with the use of an interpreter.  President Higgins, who has spent some time living in Latin America, concluded the meeting in the Pope’s native language, saying “muchos gracias.” 

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