VATICAN CITY, April 3 (UPI) -- Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II met Pope Francis for the first time Thursday, during her five-hour trip to Rome. After lunch with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, the Queen, accompanied by her husband, crossed the Tiber River for a half-hour private audience with the Pope.
He presented the Queen with a gift for her eight-month-old great-grandson, Prince George, a blue orb decorated with a silver cross.
The visit was arranged with assurances the Pope would remain neutral on the issue of Falkland Islands sovereignty. He recently had a meeting with Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner, who called on him to intercede in the dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falklands, an island group off the Argentine coast held since 1833 by the United Kingdom.
Nigel Baker, British ambassador to the Holy See, said the Vatican had restated its neutrality on the matter during the meeting between the pope and the Queen.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Pope, then known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, supported Argentine control of the Falklands, saying soldiers who died in the 1982 war were attempting to “defend the homeland, to reclaim what is theirs,” and adding Britain had “usurped’ the islands.