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Baby gifts for Prince George as queen meets Pope Francis British monarch’s first foreign trip since 2011

VATICAN CITY, April 3, (AFP): Pope Francis gave Queen Elizabeth II a royal orb for baby Prince George as the monarch met him for the first time Thursday, a low-key visit that is the 87- year-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 Anglican-Catholic relations — though officials did not reveal the content of the closed-door 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 whiskey.

When handed a traditional medal from the pope, the notoriously gaffe-prone royal spouse 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. Dressed in lilac and wearing one of her trademark hats decorated with flowers, the British queen and her husband arrived 20 minutes late at the Vatican for their audience with the pontiff. The queen, who is also “supreme governor” of the Church of England, apologised to the Catholic leader for the delay. Her visit with 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. Upon arrival at the presidential Quirinale Palace, the royal couple were greeted with a military salute and crowds of supporters, some waving Union Jack flags. Wearing white gloves and with a black purse over her arm to match her shoes, the monarch looked pleased to see the 88-yearold president, whom she last saw at the London Olympics in 2012.

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 coronation in 1952. “She will want I think to understand from Pope Francis how he sees the role of faith in the world,” Baker told Vatican radio 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. She has also met John XXIII, John Paul II and pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who stepped down last year. 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. The visit to Rome had to be postponed last year because the queen was unwell, and it was held without much of the pomp usually associated with royal travel.

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