President Higgins alludes to a potential visit to Northern Ireland by the Pope in 2018
President Michael D Higgins alluded to a potential visit to Northern Ireland by Pope Francis when he visits Dublin next year.
The President had a 15-minute meeting with Pope Francis in the Papal Library in the Vatican this morning, followed by a longer meeting with Secretary of State of the Vatican Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Speaking after meeting, President Higgins said: "There is agreement that circumstances have changed and that there is a better prospect and more scope" for a visit to Northern Ireland.
Later, in a speech at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, President Higgins said he had discussed Brexit with the Pope and he said it was important for people to face up to the difficulties it poses.
"As with the great task of building peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, there are those who will say that the challenges currently facing Europe are too deep and complex to solve," Mr Higgins said.
"And, as with Northern Ireland, it is important that we do not evade difficulties, that we face them in a spirit of truth and honesty, while keeping our eyes firmly set on the ideal and the greater human values guiding our actions."
President Higgins said he and the Pope also discussed the "urgent and wider task of building new paths of hope and renewal for European citizens".
Pope Francis will visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August 2018.
President Higgins and Pope Francis have urged world leaders to recognise the need for new and effective responses to global challenges.
The two discussed migration, climate change, sustainable development, the failure to prevent ever increasing threats of conflict and poverty.
They also talked about the need to achieve social cohesion, values of solidarity and global responsibility in Brexit negotiations, the President's office said.
A spokesman said the issues were of mutual concern to both Mr Higgins and the pontiff.
Prime Minister Theresa May is to join President Donald Trump and newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan at the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily this week.
The pope and Mr Higgins urged them to recognise the sense of urgency on global issues.
They called on them to see the need "to craft new and effective responses to global challenges".
"In particular, they agreed on the need to turn commitments on which the public had placed their trust into outcomes and action," a statement from the President's office said.
Since being elected in 2011 Mr Higgins has quoted the pope on a number of occasions and also referred to the "the globalisation of indifference", a phrase used by the pontiff about the handling of the migrant and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.
Mr Higgins' spokesman said the two men also discussed their shared conviction that new connections between ethics, economy and ecology must be at the core of all work of social and intellectual reconstruction in this new century.
He said they also agreed there can be no resolution to global issues world without an engaged alternative to "the globalisation of indifference".
He paid tribute to the Pope and said he has been an "indispensable voice of humanity and clarity".
"Pope Francis is a man who touches us all by his unique courage in identifying the crippling contradictions of our age and the need to engage with the assumptions that sustain them," he said.
"He does this with words that are infused with both humility and passion.
"He has been, since his elevation, a compelling voice tirelessly awakening us to the web of interdependencies that weaves humanity together, as well as weaving us all, humans and non-humans, to our shared and fragile planet."
President Higgins added: "He has journeyed to places of discord, where he has sought to sow the seeds of peace.
"He has been a voice for those most vulnerable - calling for housing for the homeless, land for the landless and the native peoples, dignified employment for those excluded from the labour market, and the fundamental right that all of them have to question 'macro-relations' of power and inequality."
Mr Higgins also said he was looking forward to the Pope's planned visit to Ireland next year.
And he said many people will be "inspired, strengthened and challenged" by it.
"It will be another important moment in the global dialogue we so pressingly need about the kind of society we want to build for this and for future generations," he said.
During the audience with the Pope, President Higgins gave him a climate bell by artist Vivienne Roche, entitled Mother Earth Bell, which was inspired by a speech the president gave at the Paris climate conference.
Pope Francis gave Mr Higgins medallions with an inscription from Isaiah 32:15: "Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fertile field, And the fertile field is considered as a forest."