The meeting comes two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, where the potential for disagreement is high as Trump has clashed with the pontiff on migrants and expressed skepticism about man-made impact on the environment. The meeting with President Higgins, however, is much more congenial as both leaders are very much on the same page.
Higgins is given the traditional welcome for visiting heads of state to the Vatican. He is walked through the frescoed rooms of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace by men dressed in white tie and is then introduced to Pope Francis for their meeting, which lasts fifteen minutes.
Higgins’ visit comes six months after outgoing Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a papal audience after which he confirmed the Pope would be coming to Ireland in 2018. While their discussions take place behind closed doors, it is likely that Higgins once again extends the invitation for Pope Francis to visit the country. The Pope ultimately visits Ireland August 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families 2018.
At the end of a seemingly warm and friendly encounter, Higgins presents the Pope a “climate bell” designed by renowned citizen-artist Vivienne Roche and is meant to represent a call to action on protecting the planet. “This is a very important symbol” the president tells the Pope before briefly ringing the bell.
For his part, the Pope presents Higgins with his landmark encyclical on climate change, Laudato si’, and his two apostolic exhortations, Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia. He also presents the President with a medallion designed to represent the saying from Isaiah 32:15 which states “the desert will become a fertile ground.”
The audience takes place inside the Vatican Library with the use of an interpreter. Higgins, who has spent some time living in Latin America, concludes the meeting in the Pope’s native language, saying “muchos gracias.”