Pope holds private talks with world leaders at G7 summit

4 mins read
POPE FRANCIS AND PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
Pope Francis gives U.S. President Joe Biden a thumbs up during a private meeting on the margins of the Group of Seven summit in Borgo Egnazia, in Italy's southern Puglia region, June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis met individually with several world leaders at the Group of Seven summit in southern Italy, including with U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

It was the first time a pope attended the annual summit, which brings the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations together to discuss some of the most urgent current issues.

Among the many topics the June 13-15 summit focused on were migration, climate change and development in Africa, artificial intelligence and the situation in the Middle East and Ukraine.

White House press statement

A White House press statement said Biden and the pope talked about “the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire and a hostage deal to get the hostages home and address the critical humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” during their closed-door talks June 14.

“President Biden thanked Pope Francis for the Vatican’s work to address the humanitarian impacts of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, including his efforts to help return kidnapped Ukrainian children to their families,” the statement said.

The U.S. president also expressed “his deep appreciation for the Pope’s tireless advocacy for the poor and those suffering from persecution, the effects of climate change, and conflict around the world,” according to the White House.

Meeting with Biden

During the closed-door meeting between Biden and the pope, a short video clip released to the press showed the U.S. president greeting the pope and remarking immediately about what an impression the pope’s words made on his family when his son, Beau, died of cancer in 2015.

Biden presented the pope with a large square ceramic dish with a reproduction of the fresco visible through the oculus of the dome of the U.S. Capitol’s rotunda depicting George Washington exalted in heaven. “It’s not the Vatican, but…,” Biden said as the interpreters laughed.

In a clip showing the end of the meeting, the pope said, “Pray for me. I pray for you.” The president replied, “I promise I do.”

Bilateral meetings with world leaders

In addition to the G7 members — the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain — the host nation, Italy, also invited a number of other heads of state, including the pope and the leaders of Ukraine, Argentina, India and Brazil. Russia had been a member of the group, but it was excluded in 2014 after it invaded eastern Ukraine and seized Crimea.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni greeted the pope who arrived by helicopter June 14. The pope then held a series of private bilateral meetings for about one and a half hours before he delivered a speech on the benefits and dangers of artificial intelligence, and called on political leaders to help make sure AI technologies would always be at the service of humanity.

Leaders express gratitude for presence of pope at summit

In a long written communique summing up the G7 nations’ shared views and promises, the leaders said, “We are grateful for the presence of His Holiness Pope Francis and for his contribution.”

Pope Francis met first with Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy; French President Emmanuel Macron; and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Zelenskyy told the pope, “Thank you so much, thank you for your prayers for Ukraine, for Ukrainians, for peace in Ukraine, for Ukrainian children,” in a brief video clip sent to reporters before the start of their private meeting.

Later, on a post on X, formerly Twitter, Ukraine’s president said he also thanked the pope for “his spiritual closeness to our people, and humanitarian aid for Ukrainians.”

Pope Francis and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with a priest serving as interpreter, meet privately on the margins of the Group of Seven summit in Borgo Egnazia, in Italy’s southern Puglia region, June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“I informed the Pope about the consequences of Russian aggression, its air terror, and the difficult energy situation. We discussed the Peace Formula, the Holy See’s role in establishing a just and lasting peace, and expectations for the Global Peace Summit,” the post said.

“I thanked the Holy See for its participation in the Summit and highlighted its efforts aimed at bringing peace closer, particularly returning Ukrainian children abducted by Russia,” the president’s post said.

Also posting on X June 14, Canada’s prime minister said, “I thanked His Holiness for taking up the work of Reconciliation, and I advocated for the next step — returning cultural belongings from the Vatican to Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”

Macron said on X that in his meeting with the pope, he reaffirmed France’s “shared commitment to have a world of greater solidarity and justice for people and the planet. Let us all work together to create the conditions for lasting peace.”

Georgieva expressed her gratitude for being invited to meet with the pope, posting on X: “It is so uplifting to experience @Pontifex’s kindness and listen to his message of peace, cooperation, and care for people in need.”

Final series of bilateral talks

After delivering his speech and listening to the talks of other invited heads of state, the pope held a final series of bilateral talks with: Kenyan President William Ruto; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Biden; Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

Modi said on X that he invited the pope to visit India. “I admire his commitment to serve people and make our planet better.”

Lula said on X that “We talked about peace, the fight against hunger” and reducing inequalities in the world. In a brief video clip of their encounter, also posted on X, the president of Brazil said he wanted to see if “we can campaign to make the world more humane,” to which the pope replied, “and you can do it, you can do it.”

Pope Francis and other leaders pose for a photo at the end of the Group of Seven summit in Borgo Egnazia, in Italy’s southern Puglia region, June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Ruto said on X that “Kenya joins Pope Francis in calling for (an) urgent end to violence in all parts of the world including Sudan and DRC. We are encouraged that the Tumaini Initiative that is co-sponsored by the Sant’ Egidio Catholic Community in Rome, Italy, and the government of Kenya is yielding fruits in bringing lasting peace in South Sudan.

“We are confident that the warring groups will agree to stop the fighting and give peace a chance,” the Kenyan president posted.

The Vatican press office confirmed that the scheduled bilateral meetings took place and that each one lasted 10-15 minutes. However, it did not comment on Pope Francis’ encounters with the leaders.

The pope departed after 8:30 p.m. local time to return to the Vatican.

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.