Pope Francis has described President Michael D Higgins as a “wise man of today” during an audience in the Vatican.
President Higgins met the Pontiff for the fourth time on Friday morning, and discussed issues including climate change, the environment and global inequality.
During the formal audience the Pope said of Mr Higgins: “Today I did not just meet a man, a President, I met a wise man of today. I thank God that Ireland has such a wise man as its head [of State].”
A statement issued by the Vatican said that after the audience with the Holy Father President Higgins subsequently met Cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states.
“During the cordial talks various matters of mutual interest were discussed, such as migration and the protection of the environment, with particular attention to the prospects of the 26th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26), to take place in Glasgow.
“There was also a joint reflection on the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the future of Europe, focusing finally on the theme of the strengthening of the peace process in the country.”
Speaking to the media following the audience, Mr Higgins said he and the Pope had discussed the manner in which the Covid-19 pandemic had been recognised globally but had not been responded to in terms of vaccination on a global basis.
He also said both had discussed the use of “cultural arguments” to defeat human rights arguments, “particularly in relation to women’s bodies and female genital mutilation.”
They had also discussed diverse topics such as ecology, climate change, biodiversity, the capacity of economics to change, and also prisoners and the experience of prison.
The President said the meeting, which lasted for 40 minutes, was conducted partly in Spanish.
The President was accompanied to the Vatican by his wife Sabina Higgins and by Ireland’s Ambassador to the Holy See Derek Hannon. He presented to the Pope a “bata iascaire” or “fisherman’s stick” made on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands.
Artist Lochlainn Cullen took a local blackthorn stick and wove it with special cotton, using knots drawn from fishing.
The spiral is called “St Mary’s hitch” and consists of three interwoven strands and represents the divine trinity.
The pontiff, in return, gave the President a gift of some of his papers from the library.