Among other reasons for the honor, the university pointed to the Pope's outstanding record in the defense of human rights during his almost quarter-century-long pontificate.

"Universally known is the work carried out by the Pontiff in the course of his magisterium to affirm the law and safeguard human rights in all their historical forms, either in regard to the person and his individual rights, or in reference to relations between peoples and international law," the university said in a statement.

The statement underlined the Pope's efforts to promote justice in areas such as "international debt, self-determination and peace."

Moreover, the Holy Father has been outstanding in his endeavors "at the highest levels and most important international quarters" in defense of "an appropriate balance between economic development" and the deliverance of people from poverty, the statement said.

La Sapienza is considered the most prestigious public university in Rome.