French President outlines talks with Pope
Rome, 24 January 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
I was keen to come to the Vatican today to express to Pope Francis the French people’s respect for his message of peace, solidarity and justice.
I also wanted to welcome the radiant simplicity which is characterizing the first months of his pontificate and which has impressed all our compatriots, regardless of their beliefs.
My visit is also an opportunity to emphasize that the Vatican and France agree on the major international subjects.
The first subject, which I discussed with Pope Francis this morning, is Africa, particularly the situation in the Central African Republic, where there is the risk of an inter-religious conflict and where we must do everything, each in our own position, to call for dialogue and reconciliation.
In this regard, I had a meeting in Paris yesterday with the Archbishop of Bangui and the Imam who leads the Muslim community of the Central African Republic. Together they issued an appeal for dialogue, which the Pope can only support, and he confirmed this to me.
I also wanted us to talk about Father Georges [Vandenbeusch], who was released. He was held in Nigeria, and for Pope Francis and myself it was a moment of joy to see him back here.
We talked about Africa [in general] too, because it’s a continent full of promise but is also experiencing poverty and risks to its environment. In our respective posts, we’ll be working to ensure Africa is at the heart of any discussions that take place at the highest level.
The second subject we discussed was the situation in the Middle East, and particularly in Syria.
Let me remind you that the Holy See is a stakeholder in the Geneva conference. I expressed the wish for the Vatican to receive the Syrian democratic coalition to make it clear that peace must be sought through a political solution allowing pluralism. The Geneva conference must be geared towards the transition. That’s what the Holy Father and I were able to agree on. We must do everything to halt the fighting and enable humanitarian aid to be delivered.
We’ve always repeated our commitment, in the Middle East, to a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians. The Pope will have the opportunity to express his position and his message of peace during a visit he’ll be paying there in a few weeks’ time.
For my part, I reiterated France’s commitment to protecting the holy sites, as I’d done in person to the religious authorities during my visit to Jerusalem. Free access to the holy sites must be guaranteed in the framework of the negotiation under way.
Pope Francis and I also wanted to signal our concern about the situation of the Eastern Christians. I repeated that France is playing an active role to ensure Christians stay where they’ve always lived for centuries and don’t take the path of exile because of the conflicts taking place. I’m thinking in particular of Syria, but it’s [also] been true in Iraq and may be so in Lebanon. Eastern Christians – and I’ll also have the opportunity to say this during my next visit to Turkey – must be supported and protected everywhere.
We then discussed a major issue, namely the climate conference, or to be more precise climate change. So France will be keen to ensure the climate conference can be a success. It’s not simply about hosting it: a global, universal agreement must be reached on its conclusion, enabling the targets to be achieved. It’s not merely a matter between states.
I wanted the religious authorities, and therefore the Pope himself, to be able to send this message. I didn’t need to insist, because Pope Francis is currently writing a text and ensuring that nature can be regarded as belonging to all humanity, with all the precautions human behaviour must bring with it. He himself used a phrase, and I quote: “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives.” Let’s keep in mind at least the last part of the phrase, because it’s true. So we totally agree that we must play an active role in ensuring the success of this conference. (…)./.