Fresh from meetings in Minsk, Belarus, with Putin of Russia, Hollande of France and Poroshenko of Ukraine, Chancellor Merkel flew to Rome to speak privately with Pope Francis for 40 minutes.
Pope Francis on February 21 received German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a private audience at the Vatican. The talks, the Vatican said, focused on the fight against poverty and international crises, including the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The German chancellor had a 40-minute private meeting with Francis, after which she told reporters, “I was very happy to meet with the Pope.”
Merkel described the talks as “enriching” and wide-ranging, covering the alleviation of poverty, the role of women in developing countries, equality, and Germany’s agenda for the upcoming Group of Seven (G7) summit in the southern German state of Bavaria in June.
Germany currently chairs the G7 group of major industrialized states, consisting of Germany, the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Italy and Britain. Russia had been a part of what was formerly known as the G8, before it was excluded following Russia’s annexation early last year of Ukraine’s Crimea region after the collapse of the pro-Russian Yanukovych government and a controversial Crimean plebiscite to join Russia.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine was also discussed at the meeting with the pontiff, Merkel said, adding that “he gave me a lot of encouragement” to proceed “decidedly and determinedly” to find a solution.
Fighting is continuing in the region, despite a ceasefire deal, brokered by Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia, that went into force on February 15.
Pope Francis presented Merkel with a medallion depicting St. Martin giving his coat to the needy, saying it aimed to remind world leaders their job is “to protect their poor.” Merkel responded: “We try to do our best.” Merkel gave the Pope a Johann Sebastian Bach CD and a monetary donation in a white envelope to help children affected by conflicts in the Middle East.
Following her audience with the Pope, the second one since he was elected two years ago, Merkel met Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin accompanied by Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Richard Gallagher. She also met the German ambassador to the Holy See, Annette Schavan. Schavan, a former German education minister, was considered one of Merkel’s close confidantes before she resigned from her post amid a plagiarism scandal in 2013.
The 40-minute long audience was unusually long for papal audiences, which usually take 30 minutes or a bit less.
After the Vatican meetings, Merkel visited the Communità di Sant’Egidio, the Rome-based lay movement much involved in charitable works and ecumenical and interreligious dialogue worldwide.
Speaking after the mission, Merkel, who had traveled to Rome exclusively to meet the Pope, told reporters the main purpose of her visit had been to outline the agenda for the upcoming G7 summit, due to be held in Munich in early June. The fact that the agenda puts the emphasis on the elimination of poverty was “of particular importance for the Pope and the Catholic Church,” she added.
The Vatican issued a communiqué in which it stated that the Pope and the chancellor had discussed “various questions of an international nature, with particular reference to the struggle against poverty and hunger.”
Women’s rights, world health issues and, inevitably, the current situation in Ukraine, also featured in their lengthy chat during which the Pope spoke in Italian and the chancellor in German, with both of them aided by an interpreter.
Talking to reporters later, the chancellor called the plight of the growing number of boat people who arrive on the shores of Italy “simply unacceptable.”
On the day after the meeting with Merkel, the Pope and some 80 members of the Roman Curia went outside of the Vatican to make the traditional Lenten spiritual retreat, this year, like last year, held in a retreat house in Ariccia, 15 miles south of Rome in the Alban Hills. Accordingly, the Pope had no public engagements for the entire week of retreat. The only chance for Merkel to meet with the Pope, then, was to fly down from Germany on Saturday the 21st, before the retreat. And she did so.