PM Modi meets Pope Francis, discuss ways to make ‘planet better’

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pope Francis discussed a wide range of global issues, including the Covid-19 crisis, fighting climate change and alleviating poverty, during their maiden meeting at the Vatican City on Saturday.

In a tweet, Modi described the meeting as “warm” and said he had invited the Pope to visit India.

The meeting was scheduled to last only 20 minutes but went on for an hour, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. Modi and the Pope discussed a range of issues “aimed at making the planet better”, such as climate change and poverty, the people said.

Modi was the first Indian prime minister to meet Pope Francis since he became head of the Catholic Church in 2013. It was also the first meeting between an Indian prime minister and a pope since June 2000, when late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited the Vatican and met Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II also made the last papal visit to India in 1999, when Vajpayee was the prime minister.

Modi was accompanied to the Vatican by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Modi also met Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of the Vatican City, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted.

“Had a very warm meeting with Pope Francis. I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with him and also invited him to visit India,” Modi said in his tweet.

The external affairs ministry said the Pope granted Modi a private audience at the Apostolic Palace, and the two leaders discussed the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences for people around the world.

They also discussed the challenge posed by climate change, and Modi briefed the Pope about India’s initiatives to combat the phenomenon and the country’s success in administering one billion Covid-19 vaccination doses. The Pope appreciated India’s assistance to countries in need during the pandemic, the ministry said.

The Pope also accepted Modi’s invitation to visit India.

Ahead of Modi’s meeting with the Pope, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla told reporters on Friday the Vatican had not set an agenda for the meet. Shringla had also said that issues covering a range of areas, including general global perspectives, Covid-19 and health issues, and working together to maintain peace and tranquillity were expected to figure in the discussions.

Modi is in Italy to attend the G20 Summit during October 30-31. He will then travel to the UK to attend COP26 at Glasgow. He is set to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the margins of the G20 Summit.

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