January 24 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

Pope Francis greets French President Francois Hollande during private audience at Vatican

Explosion at church in Rome as Pope receives the French president

A bomb exploded outside a French Church in Rome’s city centre hours before Pope Francis was scheduled to meet with French President Francois Hollande this morning.

by Peter Diamond

Police say a small homemade bomb exploded outside the church of Saint-Yves-des-Bretons at 1:30am GMT, damaging at least five cars in the blast with no immediate reports of casualties.

Police said it was not clear if the bomb, which contained pieces of metal as well as explosive powder, was related to President Hollande’s visit or the foundation, which is located in the heart of Rome’s historic centre, although security worries increased just before the French leader’s arrival at the Vatican when police received an anonymous phone call claiming that there was a bomb hidden beneath a colonnade in St Peter’s Square. Police cleared tourists from the area but the warning turned out to be a false alarm.

Reports prior to this morning suggested the meeting between Pope Francis and President Hollande (above left) would be tense given the new plans from the French government to legalise euthanasia.

The president seemed nervous as he was introduced to Pope Francis. The Holy Father, who does not speak French, appeared to be in a solemn mood.

Presidential aides said before the meeting he would ‘listen to what the Pope has to say’ about end-of-life policies but French Catholics doubt he will follow the Pope’s advice.

French lawmakers voted early this week to amend the country’s abortion law, making it easier for a woman to terminate a pregnancy if she so chooses. The French president has also said in the past that he will look into legalising Euthanasia in France, a promise that has outraged many of the country’s Catholics.

Vatican Television covered the president’s arrival today live, showing the stately arrival of his motorcade in the Apostolic Palace courtyard, his slow walk in the frescoed palace halls accompanied by Swiss Guards and finally his greeting with a solemn-faced Holy father in the pope’s private study.

A statement from the Vatican press office following the Papal audience said the ‘cordial’ talks focused on ‘the contribution that religion makes to the common good,’ as well as the commitment of both France and the Holy See to maintain dialogue and constructive cooperation on questions of common interest. In the context of the defense and promotion of human dignity, the two men discussed contemporary concerns such as the family, bioethical issues, the respect for religious communities and the protection of places of worship.

According to the statement, the Pope and the president also discussed issues of international concern, including the problems of poverty and development, migration and protection of the environment. They spoke especially about conflict in the Middle East and certain regions of Africa, expressing the hope that in these different countries, peaceful coexistence can be restored through dialogue and the participation of all members of society, with full respect for the rights of all people, in particular the ethnic and religious minorities

Many newspapers in France piled on the pressure ahead of the meeting by mocking the timing, which comes amid explosive allegations about President Hollande’s private life and his alleged affair with French actress Julie Gayet.

“I expressed my desire that the Vatican could host the Syrian National Coalition,” President Hollande announced after the meeting. “The Geneva II conference should be aimed at transition. We need to do everything to stop the fighting and dispatch humanitarian aid.”

The Pope was also expected to have raised other issues that have incurred the displeasure of the Catholic Church in France, including the legalisation of same-sex marriage and moves towards legalising assisted suicide.

The president, who did not take any question from the media after his meeting with the pope said Francis would be welcome to visit France whenever he wanted.

The Argentinian Pontiff seemed unusually sombre as the two men sat on opposite sides of an ornate desk.

The doors of the Vatican salon were then closed and the pair held a 35-minute private meeting in which it seemed unlikely that the Pope, despite his straight-talking reputation and sometimes mischievous sense of humour, raised the delicate subject of the president’s turbulent private life.

After their meeting, Mr Hollande gave the Pope a gift—a biography of St Francis of Assisi.

“He’s your patron saint too,” the Pope quipped, in reference to Mr Hollande’s first name.


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