Pope Francis today (4 April) urged the Prince of Wales to be a “man of peace” during their first meeting in the Vatican.
Accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince and his wife spent 27 minutes with Francis in one of the private rooms adjoining the Paul VI hall, where the prince gave the Pope a straw basket hamper of produce from his estate in Highgrove, Gloucestershire, suggesting Francis could give it to the poor and homeless.
“It's difficult to know what to give your Holiness. It may come in handy. Somebody else might like it. It’s all home made things I produce,” the Prince said, to which the Duchess of Cornwall added: “It’s very good.”
In return, Francis gave Charles a copy of his environmental encyclical, “Laudato si’” and apostolic letters, “Amoris Laetitia” and “Evangelii Gaudium". He presented these texts along with a bronze olive branch symbolising peace.
“Wherever you go may you be a man of peace,” the Pope told the Prince, who replied: “I’ll do my best.” The Prince then added: “you are very generous” and said that reading the papal documents would be “a great treat.”
Both the Prince and the Pope share a passion for protecting the natural world with Francis’ landmark document, “Laudato si’ ” echoing many of the issues the Prince has campaigned for over the last 40 years.
"The discussion covered a number of topics of mutual interest," a statement from the British Embassy to the Holy See explained following the meeting, adding that the environment was a "theme of the visit."
Another issue of discussion may have been the persecution of Christians. The Prince has recently highlighted their plight, and has given a sizeable donation to Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in need.
Following the audience, the prince and Sir Alan met with the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin while Charles had a roundtable discussion with Holy See officials on ecological issues.
Before meeting the Pope, the prince paid his first visit to the English College where he met with Cardinal Vincent Nichols and members of the community including the Rector, Mgr Philip Whitmore.
Prince Charles and Cardinal Vincent Nichols ©Arthur Edwards
During their visit, the Prince and the Duchess also went to the Vatican Secret Archives and the Vatican Library, and were able to see a few of the valuable historic documents held in both collections
Charles’ papal audience came as part of the Prince’s European tour aimed at building bridges following Britain’s triggering of Article 50 and starting its formal departure from the European Union.
During the audience today Prince Charles was accompanied by a 15 person delegation which included Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the commonwealth.
Brexit has recently sparked a row between Spain and the United Kingdom over Gibraltar after the EU gave the Spanish a veto over the future of the British territory. During Charles’ audience with the Pope, translation was provided by Mgr Mark Miles, a Gibraltarian priest who works at the Holy See’s Secretariat of State.
The heir to the British throne’s meeting with Francis comes six years after he was granted a private audience with Benedict XVI in 2009. He met John Paul II with Princess Diana in 1985.
While in 2009 the Duchess of Cornwall wore a mantilla to see Benedict XVI this time she chose not to wear one.
The Prince’s visit today also follows that of the Queen who saw Francis in 2014, who became the fifth Pope she has met in the Vatican. Like Charles, she also brought Francis a hamper of produce although hers came from the royal estate of Sandringham, Norfolk.
Unlike his mother, however, over the years the Prince has had what might be described as a “cordial but minimal” relationship with the papacy”: Charles did not lend his name to inviting Benedict XVI to visit Britain in 2010 nor did he see the then Pope during his UK trip.
In 2005, however, he delayed his wedding to Camilla in order to attend the funeral of John Paul II.
The meeting with Francis was a chance for the Prince to bolster his relationship with the papacy. It took place in a formal and friendly atmosphere where, at the end, the Sun newspaper’s royal photographer and a Catholic, Arthur Edwards, was introduced to the Pope.
“This is an important man, he’s been following me for 40 years,” Charles told the Pope.