Pope Francis has been presented with the International Charlemagne Prize, one of Europe's most prestigious prizes, for his "message of hope and encouragement."

Francis held a private audience Friday morning with European parliament president Martin Schulz, a former Charlemagne Prize recipient, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and EU Council President Donald Tusk, ahead of the midday ceremony. He also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Charlemagne prize is awarded annually by the German city of Aachen for contributions to European unity. Previous winners include former U.S. President Bill Clinton and St. John Paul II, who received a special edition of the prize in 2004.

The Holy Roman emperor Charlemagne once ruled a large swath of western Europe from Aachen, near the Belgian border.