LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II will meet Pope Francis for the first time when she visits Rome in April as a guest of the Italian president, Buckingham Palace said Tuesday.
The queen and her husband Prince Philip will have an audience with the pope after attending a lunch hosted by President Giorgio Napolitano during the one-day visit on April 3.
It will be the first time that the queen, who is supreme governor of the Church of England, will meet the Roman Catholic leader since he was elected in March last year.
The trip was announced the day after it was confirmed that the queen would make a state visit to France to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings on June 5-7.
The 87-year-old monarch and her 92-year-old husband have scaled back their overseas trips in recent years, allowing heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and other royals to represent them.
The Rome trip will be the first time that the queen will leave Britain since visiting Australia in October 2011.
The trip to the Italian capital was meant to take place in March last year but had to be postponed after the queen was hospitalized with gastroenteritis.
Also Tuesday, Pope Francis called for a fair distribution of wealth and equal access to education and health care in a Lenten message where he urged people to reach out and touch “the poverty of our brothers.”
In his message for the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, he also said Christians should help those suffering from moral poverty, such as the “thrall” of alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography.
During Lent, which begins on March 5 this year, Christians are called on to carry out acts of self-denial and help those less fortunate.
Francis, who was known as the slum pope in his native Buenos Aires because of his visits to the poorest people, said the wounds of poverty “disfigure the face of humanity” and were crying out to be healed.
“We Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it,” he said.
He again called on the wealthy to share their good fortune, to not be blind to the needs of others, and not to practice superficial solidarity or vain displays of self-denial.
“When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth,” he said. “Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.”
The pope said that material poverty and moral destitution were often intertwined.
“How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope? And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care,” he said.