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Queen Elizabeth meets Pope, lunches with president

Gifts including whiskey exchanged between Francis and monarch

03 April, 18:51
Queen Elizabeth meets Pope, lunches with president (ANSA) - Rome, April 3 - Informality was high on the agenda Thursday when Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, made a quick visit to Rome for a quiet lunch with the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano followed by a brief visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Gifts were exchanged between the pope and the Commonwealth queen during their first meeting, an informal affair that lasted about 20 minutes inside the Vatican and described by observers as "friendly" and intimate.

The meeting began about 20 minutes later than scheduled, prompting the queen to apologize to Francis: "Sorry for the wait, we were having a nice lunch with President Napolitano".

The queen presented the pope with a hamper filled with treats from her estates in Great Britain including a bottle of whisky from Scotland, special honey, beef and jams, the Vatican said.

In response, Francis gave the royal couple a lapis lazuli globe with a cross as a gift for their latest great-grandchild George, who is line to eventually become king.

During their meeting in a small study inside the Paul VI Hall, Francis also presented the queen with an antique parchment dating from 1679 with an "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message by Cardinal Cesare Facchinetti. Popes traditionally give an "Urbi et Orbi" message on such significant occasions as Easter and Christmas.

The queen, who is also head of the Church of England, discussed issues around the role of faith in the world and the shared roots of Christianity with Francis, Vatican Radio reported.

Dressed in a lavender-coloured coat and matching hat decorated with spring flowers, the queen landed at 12:30 p.m.

local time at the Ciampino military airport on the western edge of Rome, where she was met by Britain's ambassador Christopher Prentice. She was then greeted at the courtyard of the presidential palace on Rome's famed Quirinal Hill by Napolitano with an honour guard and a military band that played the national anthems of Britain and Italy.

In an atmosphere described by observers as pleasant, smiles were exchanged amid greetings in the English language, before the group moved on to a lunch featuring lamb in the Quirinal's Hall of Bronzino.

Decorating the queen's coat was a large brooch trimmed with gold, sapphire and diamonds, a gift from Mary, the former queen and Elizabeth's grandmother, who bought the piece of jewelry in 1934.

It was presented as a gift to Elizabeth in 1953, the year of her formal coronation which followed her accession to the throne in 1952.

The queen has visited the Italian capital four times during her 62-year reign, the last time 14 years ago when she met former Pope John Paul II at the Vatican; however, this marks her first meeting with Francis, who was elected just over one year ago. The 87-year-old queen had been scheduled to visit Rome in March 2013, but was forced to cancel due to a gastrointestinal illness that required a brief hospitalisation.

The royal visit traces a similar, though more formal, itinerary followed one week earlier when United States President Barack Obama paid a State visit to Rome where he held meetings with Napolitano and the pope as well as substantive talks with Premier Matteo Renzi.