Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said he had a "very warm meeting" with Pope Francis and discussed a wide range of issues, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenge posed by climate change, with the head of the Roman Catholic church and also invited the Pontiff to visit India at an early date.
Modi, who is the first Indian Prime Minister to meet Francis since he became Pope in 2013, also tweeted pictures of him embracing Pope Francis.
"Had a very warm meeting with Pope Francis. I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with him and also invited him to visit India,” Modi tweeted after the historic meeting.
Pope Francis received Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a private audience at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a press release.
This was the first meeting between an Indian Prime Minister and the Pope in more than two decades. In June 2000, late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had last visited the Vatican and met the then Pope, His Holiness John Paul II.
India and The Holy Seer have friendly relations dating back to the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1948. India is home to the second largest Catholic population in Asia, the release said.
During the meeting, the two leaders discussed the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences for people across the world. They also discussed the challenge posed by climate change, it said.
The Prime Minister, who is in Italy to attend the G20 Summit, briefed the Pope about the ambitious initiatives taken by India in combating climate change as well as India's success in administering one billion Covid-19 vaccination doses. Prime Minister Modi will also attend the Climate Summit to be held in Glasgow from Sunday.
His Holiness appreciated India's assistance to countries in need during the pandemic, the release said.
Prime Minster extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit India at an early date, which was accepted with pleasure, it said.
The last Papal Visit happened in 1999 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister and Pope John Paul II came. Now it is during Modi's prime ministerial term that the Pope has been invited to visit India, sources said.
The meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Pope Francis that was scheduled only for 20 minutes went on for an hour, they said.
They discussed a wide range of issues aimed at making the planet better by fighting climate change and removing poverty, sources said.
"During a brief conversation, the cordial relations between the Holy See and India were discussed,” the Vatican Press Office said in a brief statement on the meeting between the Pope and Prime Minister Modi.
Subsequently, in the Secretariat of State, Prime Minister Modi greeted Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Security of Relations with States, it added.
At the Vatican, Modi was accompanied by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
Ahead of the historic meeting, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Friday said that the Vatican has not set an agenda for the meeting. “I believe, tradition is not to have an agenda when you discuss issues with His Holiness. And I think we would respect that,” he had said.
"I am sure the issues would cover a range of areas of interest in terms of the general global perspectives and issues that are important to all of us, COVID-19, health issues, how we can work together to maintain peace and tranquility and this is something that, I think would be the general trend in the discussions,” he had added.