Macron meets Pope Francis, on first Vatican visit

French President Emmanuel Macron met for the first time on Tuesday with Pope Francis on a visit that excludes any discussion with the populist Italian government.

However, the issue of migrants, one of the Argentinian pope's major concerns should be at the heart of the meeting Tuesday morning.

Before this tete-a-tete, Emmanuel Macron had breakfast discreetly with the community of lay Catholics Sant'Egidio, who are closely involved in the reception of migrants and one of the organizers of some of the "humanitarian corridors" conveying Syrian refugees into Europe.

The meeting with an organization close to Italian political circles could be the opportunity to pass messages to the new government, which declared war on the NGOs positioning their boats off the Libyan coast.

The pope regularly calls on EU leaders to maintain founding ideals such as "solidarity".

However, the visit is the subject of considerable criticism from French secularists. Macron has called for stronger ties between the state and the Catholic Church, a move critics said blurred a line that has kept French government free of religious intervention for generations.

It has also place the spotlight on Macron's own religious beliefs. As a schoolboy, Emmanuel Macron decided he wanted to be baptised as a Catholic, despite his parents' misgivings.

It was "the start of a mystical period that lasted for a few years," the French president told an interviewer during campaigning in 2017.

By his mid-teens, he had distanced himself from the church, however, and he now considers himself to be agnostic.

Asked last year whether he believed in God, he gave a cryptic answer that pointed to his faith in something spiritual and immaterial, but not Catholic in form.

"I believe in a form of transcendence, that's why I thoroughly respect the role of religions in society," he said during a chat with journalists. Faith and the highly sensitive subject of the role of the church in French society are set to be on the menu Tuesday when Macron visits the Vatican for the first time as leader for a meeting with Pope Francis.

The 40-year-old centrist has also decided to accept being made an honorary canon of St John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, a tradition dating back to the 15th century when the French state and church were indistinguishable.

Several of Macron's predecessors have declined the title, including Socialists Francois Mitterrand and Francois Hollande, in a bid to avoid associating themselves with religious imagery.

Source: National News Agency