French President Francois Hollande has announced he has invited Pope Francis to visit France whenever he wishes, saying that he was “welcome”.
He also assured the Pope of France’s commitment to help Middle Eastern Christians remain in their countries as well as protect places of worship.
The French President was received in private audience by the Holy Father this morning at the Vatican Apostolic Palace.
President Hollande spoke to the press at the Cultural Centre Saint-Louis de France in Rome after his meeting with the Holy Father. The French head of state also met with Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States. Later on he attended a luncheon at the French Embassy to the Holy See for the French members of the Secretariat of State.
“I came to convey to him the respect of the French people for his message of peace, solidarity and justice,” the President said. He also said that he came to “greet the radiant simplicity which marks the first months of his pontificate.”
Among the issues President Hollande discussed with the Holy Father were issues of poverty and environmental risks.
During their conversation, the French leader said: “My visit is also an opportunity to highlight the convergence of the Vatican and France on major international issues, firstly Africa, in particularly the situation in the Central African Republic. “
Speaking on the issue of Syria,as well as noting the Holy See’s participation in the Geneva II Conference, Holland hoped that the Vatican would soon receive the Syrian National Coalition, the largest opposition group. Two envoys of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad was received in Rome on December 28.
The French President gave his views on a “political solution” in Syria, reiterating the appeal the Pope made in his Christmas message, and at his meeting with the diplomatic corps on Jan. 13.
The Holy Father has made repeated calls for an end to the fighting as well as humanitarian assistance for those affected. “The Geneva Conference should turn towards transition,” Hollande said. “We must do everything to stop the fighting and deploy humanitarian aid.”
Hollande also spoke of his willingness to negotiate settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, and referred to the upcoming papal trip in May as well as assuring France’s commitment in protecting holy sites.
Hollande also revealed that the Holy Father is working on a text regarding environmental issues. When speaking on issues of climate, the French president recalled the Pope saying: “God always forgives, man sometimes, nature, never, when we do not take care of it.”
In a communique released today, the Holy See stated that discussions between the Pope and President Hollande also focused on the contribution of religion to the common good.
“Emphasising the good existing relations between France and the Holy See, the Parties made mention of their mutual commitment to maintaining a regular dialogue between the State and the Catholic Church and to collaborating constructively on questions of common interest,” the Holy See statement read.