Pope Francis spent nearly half an hour in discussion today with the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Holy Father received the royal couple in the auletta of the Paul VI hall this afternoon, along with a 15-member delegation including the UK’s minister for the Commonwealth.

The Vatican issued no statement as the prince is not a head of state, but “topics of mutual interest” were discussed according the British embassy to the Holy See — most likely the environment, climate change and persecuted Christians.

Prince Charles has made considerable efforts to draw attention to Christians suffering for the faith, saying their plight is being "overlooked", and lending his support to charities such as Aid to the Church in Need. (Continued below)

Prince Charles gave the Pope a hamper of homemade produce from his Highgrove estate, saying: “It’s difficult to know what to give His Holiness — it may come in handy, or someone else might like it”, implying he could give it to the poor.

The Pope gave the couple special editions of his encyclical Laudato Si, and his two apostolic exhortations, Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia. He also presented them with an olive branch made of bronze, signifying peace.

“Wherever you go may you be a man of peace,” the Pope told the prince. “I’ll do my best,” Charles replied, adding that the gifts were “very generous, a great treat.”

Following the audience, the Pope, accompanied by foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan, met the Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.  

The environment was “a theme of the visit,” according to the UK government and the British royal joined a round-table discussion on climate change with senior Holy See officials, including Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the new dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The royal couple also visited the Vatican Secret Archives and the Vatican Library, and met many of the British community working at the Holy See at a small reception at the Venerable English College.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall last visited a pope in 2009 when they had a private audience with Benedict XVI. 

The royal couple is on a tour of Italy this week and have so far visited the earthquake-hit region of central Italy and Florence. Their last engagements include a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella and a visit to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Tomorrow they fly on to Austria for the final leg of their nine-day European tour.

Photo credits: EMP (2), Clarence House.