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VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron held talks Tuesday in a private meeting that went overtime at the Vatican, with sharp European tensions over migrants the backdrop for the encounter.
The two men spoke for 57 minutes in the pope's library in the Apostolic Palace. Originally, the pope's schedule called for 45 minutes with the French leader.
After they emerged from their closed-door talks, Macron put a hand on Francis' shoulder, and then kissed him on both cheeks, affectionately taking his leave. Francis reciprocated the warmth, gripping the French leader's arm and then shaking his hands vigorously and smiling broadly as he said goodbye. He also took the hand of Macron's wife, Brigitte.
As is his custom with guests, Francis gave Macron a medal depicting St. Martin of Tours, who gave his cloak to a poor man.
The medal "aims at underlining the vocation of those who govern in helping the poor," Francis told Macron. "We are all poor." He also gave Macron copies of his various writings, including his encyclical on the fragility of the Earth, and his last message marking the Church's World Peace Day.
Macron presented Francis with a copy of "The Diary of a Country Priest," by Georges Bernanos. The book recounts the story of a young French priest who learns humility in tending to the faithful.
"I already read it. Many times." said Francis, nodding to indicate he was familiar with the book. "It did me well to read it," said the pontiff.
Last week, Francis urged nations to welcome all the refuges they can properly integrate into society.
At a time of testy French-Italian relations, Macron's visit was officially strictly Vatican-related, with no meetings scheduled with Italian government leaders.
Italy is angry that France sends back migrants who illegally enter France from Italy.
France further irked Italy's new populist government by scathingly criticizing the Italians for refusing to allow docking of a private rescue ship with more than 600 migrants aboard. Spain eventually gave the ship safe harbor. Italy has allowed some 600,000 migrants, rescued at sea in the last few years from smugglers' boats setting out from Libya, to step onto its soil. But the new right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says Italy can no longer be "the refugee camp" for Europe.
A Swiss Guard picket in their colorful uniforms, with plumed helmet, greeted Macron, who wore a dark blue suit, and his wife, who wore a long-sleeved, just-below-the knee black dress with a touch of ruffles and black pumps.
Before the couple's motorcade arrived at the Vatican, the president met with officials from the Rome-based Catholic charity, the Sant'Egidio Community. The group works to integrate migrants into Italian society and has organized humanitarian flights of Syrian refugees to Italy so that those fleeing war will have an alternative to risky journeys across the Mediterranean to reach safety in Europe and to life in crowded refugee camps in the Middle East.
Pope Francis has repeatedly hailed these "humanitarian corridor" flights as an example of solidarity toward those in need.
Community president Marco Impagliazzo said that Macron was briefed about Sant'Egidio's efforts aimed at resolving conflicts in Africa, and, "in particular in this moment in South Sudan, and in the Central African Republic, questions that the president is very concerned about."
"We spoke above all of a European solution to this migration crisis that is not only a crisis of the flow of migrants but also a problem of what to do with the people when they arrive in Europe, what will they do, how will they be inserted into society," Impagliazzo said.
Trisha Thomas contributed to this report from Rome.
Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio.