Francois Hollande thanks Pope for 'words of comfort' over Islamic attacks

Francois Hollande thanks Pope for 'words of comfort' over Islamic attacks

French president Francois Hollande has visited Pope Francis to thank him for his words of comfort after a spate of Islamic extremist attacks across France left more than 200 dead.

Mr Hollande arrived at the Vatican for the 40-minute private audience on Wednesday after visiting the French church in Rome's historic centre.

He told reporters that he wanted to thank Francis for his solidarity after the Nice attack on July 14 and the subsequent killing of a priest in his church.

When Mr Hollande spoke with Francis last month, "he told me in confidence that he was standing like a brother by the side of the French people", the French president said.

"All the words that have been said - I'm also thinking of the leaders of the French church - have been very important because they helped remind the French people of their unity... and also of the solidarity of the whole world towards France."

He had called Francis to express his solidarity after Islamic extremists attacked a Normandy church during Mass and slit the throat of the priest, the Reverend Jacques Hamel.

Mr Hollande pledged to protect French churches and said: "When a priest is attacked, it is all of France that has been hurt."

The attack was condemned as "absurd" and "barbaric" by the Vatican, although Francis subsequently declined to label Islam as a whole as "terrorist".

The Vatican provided no information about the content of Wednesday's audience, but Mr Hollande said he would speak with Francis about refugees, the situation in the Middle East and the plight of Christians who have been targeted in particular by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.

He presented Francis with a piece of Sevres porcelain with the French seal on it, the Vatican said.

Francis gave Mr Hollande a bronze sculpture symbolising the passage from war to peace, as well as his recent teaching documents on the environment and families.

It is the second time the two have met privately - Mr Hollande had a state visit on January 24 2014.

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