Pope Francis has received German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a private audience at the Vatican. The talks focused on the fight against poverty and international crises, including the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The German chancellor had a 40-minute private meeting with the head of the Catholic Church on Saturday, after which she told reporters, "I was very happy to meet with the pope."
Angela Merkel described the talks as "enriching" and wide-ranging, covering the alleviation of poverty, the role of women in developing countries, equality, and Germany's agenda for the upcoming Group of Seven (G7) summit in the southern German state of Bavaria in June.
Germany currently chairs the G7 group of major industrialized states, consisting of Germany, the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Italy and Britain. Russia had been a part of what was formerly known as the G8, before it was excluded over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine was also discussed at the meeting with the pontiff, Merkel said, adding that "he gave me a lot of encouragement" to proceed "decidedly and determinedly" to find a solution. Fighting is continuing in the region, despite a ceasefire deal, brokered by Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia, that went into force last Sunday.
Pope Francis presented Merkel with a medallion depicting St. Martin giving his coat to the needy, saying it aimed to remind world leaders their job is "to protect their poor." Merkel responded: "We try to do our best." Merkel gave the pope a Johann Sebastian Bach CD and a donation to help children affected by conflicts in the Middle East.
Following her audience with the pope - the second since he was appointed - Merkel met Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and German ambassador to the Holy See, Annette Schavan. Schavan, a former German education minister, was considered one of Merkel's close confidantes before she resigned from her post amid a plagiarism scandal in 2013.
nm/bk (AFP, AP, dpa, epd)