Pope Francis, Emmanuel Macron talk immigration in first meeting

By Elise Harris

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Pope Francis with French President Emmanuel Macron in the Apostolic Palace on June 26, 2018. Credit: Vatican Media.

The heated debate over immigration in Europe was a central topic of discussion in a meeting between Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican Tuesday.

The June 26 meeting marked the first time the two had met since Macron’s election in May 2017.

During the 57-minute conversation, which took place in the Vatican's apostolic palace and was described as “warm” and “friendly,” Francis and Macron spoke on a variety of topics.

Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis was a key part of the discussion. Macron has made headlines in recent days by vocally opposing Italy's new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, who has turned away refugee boats at the harbor and called for strict immigration policies.

Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken on the topic of immigration, calling on nations to find ways to welcome and protect migrants.

The pope and the president also discussed other topics of global interest, such as the contribution of religion to the common good in France and a multilateral commitment to prevent and resolve conflict, especially related to disarmament.

The two leaders also exchanged views on conflicts happening around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the status and future of Europe.

Macron and Francis exchanged gifts before the president moved on to a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

Macron, a baptized Catholic but not a regular churchgoer, is France’s youngest president. He had never been elected to political office before running for president, and ran as the head of a new political party “En Marche!” He has described himself as a “centrist liberal” who hopes to transcend political boundaries.

In comments during his campaign last year, Macron at one point said “we have a duty to let everybody practice their religion with dignity,” though he voiced his belief that “when one enters the public realm, the laws of the Republic must prevail over religious law.”

Speaking to the French bishops in April this year, Macron underscored the important role of religion in fighting the relativism and nihilism present in the modern world. He praised the contribution of the Church in public life, especially in upholding human dignity.

In a telegram congratulating Macron on his election in May 2017, Francis prayed that God would support the leader, “so that your country, faithful to the rich diversity of its moral traditions and its spiritual heritage marked also by the Christian tradition, may always endeavor to build a more just and fraternal society.”

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