Vatican City (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron made his first official visit to the Vatican on Tuesday where he held an unusually long meeting with Pope Francis.
The tete-a-tete between the Argentine pontiff and Macron in the Vatican’s ornate library lasted 57 minutes — the longest between Francis and a head of state.
Past talks between the pope and a president have never exceeded 50 minutes.
Francis spoke with former US president Barack Obama for 50 minutes and with his successor Donald Trump for 30 minutes.
Faith and the sensitive subject of the role of the church in French society were thought to be among the topics for discussion, as was the thorny issue of migration, currently casting deep divisions within the European Union.
Macron made the visit after deciding to accept being made an honorary canon of St John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, a tradition dating back to the 15th century when the French state and church were indistinguishable.
Several of Macron’s predecessors have declined the title, including socialists Francois Mitterrand and Francois Hollande, in order to avoid associating themselves with religious imagery.
France is strictly secular under a landmark 1905 law that separated the state from the church.
Macron’s decision to accept the title has drawn particular scrutiny at home following comments in April in which he said he wanted to “repair” the “bond” between church and state.
Francis and the French president smiled and embraced each other as they left their meeting.
The French president offered the Pope a 1949 edition in Italian of “The Diary of a Country Priest” by French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos.
Francis presented Macron with a bronze medal of Saint Martin, a fourth century symbol of generosity, and the main texts from his papacy.
Giving the medal to Macron, the Pope said it was the “vocation of those in government to protect the poorest”.