Queen meets pope for first time

POPE Francis gave Queen Elizabeth II a royal orb for baby Prince George as the monarch met him for the first time yesterday, a lowkey visit that is the 87year-old monarch’s first foreign trip since 2011.

The visit took place a day after the anniversary of the start of the Falklands War between Britain and Francis’s native Argentina in 1982, and also came at a thorny moment in AnglicanCatholic relations though officials did not reveal the content of the closeddoor discussions.

The pair capped their talks with a peculiar exchange of gifts that included a hamper of food products from the royal estates from the queen, which the pope reciprocated with the lapis lazuli and silver orb for her great-grandson.

Francis was taken aback when the queen’s husband Prince Philip gave him a bottle of whisky.

When handed a traditional medal from the pope, the notoriously gaffe-prone royal spouse Philip quipped: “It’s the only gold medal I’ve ever won!”

Philip, 92, also looked quizzically at another gift from the pope -- a decree from Pope Innocent XI about Britain’s Saint Edward the Confessor -- which was in Latin.

The visit with the pope followed lunch and a 20-minute meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Italian media quoted diplomatic sources as saying the queen discussed the crisis in Ukraine and Italian politics with the president following Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s appointment last month.

British officials played down the prospect of any contentious issues on the menu for the pope and the queen, with Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, underlining the “extraordinary” progress in Britain-Vatican and Anglican-Catholic relations since Queen Elizabeth’s accession in 1952.

“She will want I think to understand from Pope Francis how he sees the role of faith in the world,” Baker said ahead of the closed-door meeting.

Francis is the fifth pope the queen has met, starting with Pius XII in 1951 when she was still a princess.

The couple’s last foreign trip was to Australia in October 2011.

They have drastically cut down on foreign travel because of their advancing age. – AFP