Pope Francis urged President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines to “always bring peace.” He encouraged him to pursue the path of peace at the end of their 25-minute private conversation during which the two men exchanged gifts.
They spoke together in the pope’s private library with the aid of an interpreter, and afterwards they exchanged gifts. President Aquino gave Pope Francis a gift of two cups and saucers, a bowl and three plates and explained that it is a prized product of Filipino rural handicraft.
Francis, for his part, gave the president a large medallion on which was depicted an olive branch, the symbol of peace, and looking at him said: “I give it to you that you may always bring peace among peoples.” He also gave him red hardbound copies of the two documents he had written: “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the programmatic document of his papacy, and “Laudato Si’,” the encyclical on “the care of our common home.” President Aquino thanked him for both and said, “I can read them on the flight back home!”
The pope’s words about peace were significant given the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that would end the 45-year-old conflict seems to be stalled. The Congress has not yet given its approval to the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, which was signed by the government and the rebels on March 28, 2014. The agreement, among other things, recognizes an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines.
This interpretation would appear to be confirmed by the press statement issued by the Vatican after the president had left for the airport. It revealed that during his “cordial discussions” with Pope Francis and, afterwards, with the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, and the under-secretary for Relations with States, Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, “special reference was made to the peace process in Mindanao, with the hope that commitment from the parties may guarantee stable and lasting peace to the region.”
The statement also mentioned that the leaders had also spoken about “the dialogue between the various members of Filipino society” and “the contribution of the Catholic Church to the life of the country.” The Philippines is the country with the largest Catholic population in Asia; some 82 percent of its 100 million inhabitants are Catholic. It will be remembered that the Filipinos gave the pope a tremendous welcome when he visited there last January, and between six and seven million people attended his open-air Mass in Manila.
According to the Vatican press release, President Aquino and his Vatican hosts also “exchanged opinions” on “the international and regional situation, with special reference to the question of climate change and the COP21 Conference in Paris.”
In actual fact, President Aquino flew from the U.N. summit on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris to meet the pope. He had arrived in Paris from Manila on Nov. 29 to participate in that summit and had spoken at that gathering before coming to Rome. Francis is deeply concerned about the question of climate change as he made abundantly clear in his encyclical and, more recently, when he spoke to the U.N. Office in Nairobi and expressed the hope that the summit would reach broad agreement on this question because humanity is “on the brink of suicide.” Francis would certainly have been very keen to hear what the president had to say about the summit.
The statement said they also talked about “the international and regional situation,” and it is reasonable to deduce that part of that discussion would have been about the relations between China and the Philippines.
At the end of the exchange of gifts, President Aquino presented his large delegation of around 20 people to the pope, who greeted each one of them.