Pope meets president of Madagascar

Pope Francis checks out one of the large marbles on a Madagascar Solitaire board given to him by President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar during a meeting in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Aug. 17, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While many Vatican officials and employees were enjoying a traditional August break from work, Pope Francis welcomed President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar to the Vatican for a private meeting.

According to the Vatican press office, the two spoke alone for 20 minutes Aug. 17 in the library of the Apostolic Palace.

After Rajoelina introduced his entourage to the pope, Pope Francis led the group to a table holding the small model ship Rajoelina had given him in Madagascar in 2019. The group posed for a photo there, the press office said.

Then the pope led his guests to a statue of Mary given to him by the country’s bishops; with the pope, the group recited the Hail Mary, the press office said.

Pope Francis gave the president a bronze sculpture of a dove on a grapevine with the message “Be messengers of peace” inscribed on its base.

Rajoelina gave the pope a painting of a scene of rural life and a large game of Madagascar Solitaire, sometimes also called marble solitaire.

After meeting the pope, the president met with Msgr. Miroslaw Wachowski, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states.

The two discussed “various themes of a national and international character, including the war in Ukraine and its consequences at a global level, the situations of crisis affecting the African continent and the possibility of proceeding in the drafting of a bilateral agreement, as a further sign of respectful collaboration” between the government and the Catholic church, the press office said. It provided no further details.

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