Vatican City, Oct 29, 2021 / 02:45 am (CNA).
Pope Francis has a packed schedule over the next 24 hours as he meets the leaders of three countries who, when taken together, govern 1.76 billion people.
The 84-year-old pope’s first meeting on Oct. 29 is with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, followed shortly afterward by a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Early the following morning, Pope Francis will welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Vatican for the first time.
All three leaders are in Rome this week for the G20 summit, which will take place Oct. 30-31.
Each papal meeting will take place privately inside the Apostolic Palace for between 30 minutes to an hour.
The Vatican canceled its usual live broadcast of the handshake between the pope and each leader for the Oct. 29 audiences one day before the meetings without explanation.
South Korea’s President
Moon, who is scheduled to meet Pope Francis at 10:30 a.m., plans to discuss efforts to promote peace on the Korean peninsula, as well as the pandemic, poverty, and climate change, according to a spokesperson for the president’s office.
It will be the second official audience between the pope and the South Korean president, who is a Catholic.
During Moon’s first meeting with the pope in 2018, the South Korean leader extended an invitation to Pope Francis from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un for a papal visit to North Korea.
In July 2021, the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said that he had been working with Church leaders to make a papal trip to North Korea possible, although a South Korean archbishop has said that “in reality, there are many steps to take” before this could feasibly happen.
The U.S. President
This will be Biden’s first official visit to the Vatican since his inauguration. The president will be accompanied by his wife, First Lady Jill Biden.
Biden has previously met Pope Francis on three occasions, but this will be his first face-to-face meeting with the pope as the country’s second Catholic president.
The meeting between the president and the pope is scheduled to start at noon and last for about an hour.
According to the White House, Biden plans to discuss “ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.”
Biden and his administration have taken a number of steps to fund abortion, which Pope Francis has repeatedly called “murder.”
Ahead of their Oct. 29 meeting, a White House spokeswoman acknowledged that “the pope has spoken differently” than Biden on abortion.
Biden, a Catholic, “is somebody who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said
Pope Francis previously met Biden in 2015, during his visit to the U.S., when Biden was vice president. The next year the two exchanged a greeting during a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine, at which Biden spoke. Biden also met Francis at his papal inauguration in March 2013.
The Prime Minister of India
Seven years after assuming the office of prime minister, Modi will meet the pope for the first time on Oct. 30 at 8:30 a.m.
While Pope Francis has already visited both South Korea and the United States, the pope has yet to make a trip to India, which has not received a papal visit since John Paul II traveled to Delhi in 1999.
The leader of the world’s second-most populous country is meeting the pope at a time when there have been religious freedom concerns within India under the leadership of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom listed India as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade.
The Indian prime minister’s office has not released further details of what he hopes to discuss with the pope, but has said that during his time in Rome he will participate in discussions on “global economic and health recovery from the pandemic, sustainable development, and climate change” at the G20 summit.
Following the summit in Rome, Modi will head to Glasgow for the U.N. climate summit (COP26).
Other leaders coming to Italy for the high-security G20 summit include Germany’s Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Pope Francis recently sent a message to the G20 Interfaith Forum, which brings religious leaders together to develop policy recommendations to be delivered to G20 Summit leaders.
The pope emphasized the role of religious leaders in combating religious extremism and fundamentalism, especially when it leads to violence.
“As religious leaders, I believe that first of all we must serve the truth and declare what is evil when it is evil, without fear or pretense, even and especially when it is committed by those who profess to follow the same creed as us,” the pope said.
“We must also help each other, all together, to combat the religious illiteracy that permeates all cultures: it is a widespread ignorance that reduces the experience of belief to rudimentary dimensions of the human and seduces vulnerable souls into adhering to fundamentalist slogans.”
“Above all, we need to educate, promoting equitable, solidarity-based and integral development that increases opportunities for schooling and education, because where poverty and ignorance reign unchecked, fundamentalist violence takes hold more easily.”