French President Francois Hollande will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, three weeks after the jihadist murder of a priest in France sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church.
The two will discuss the killing of 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel by two teenagers claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group, as well as the situation facing Christians in the Middle East, French officials said.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will accompany Hollande on the trip.
Francis and Hollande spoke by telephone hours after Hamel's murder while he was celebrating mass at his church in a town near Rouen — Hollande's birthplace — on 26 July.
The following day, the pope said the world was "at war" but argued that religion was not the cause.
"When I speak of war, I speak of wars over interests, money, resources, not religion," the pope told reporters en route to the Catholic gathering World Youth Days in Krakow, Poland. "All religions want peace, it's the others who want war."
Referring to Hamel, he said, "This holy priest who died in the moment of offering prayers for the church is one (victim). But how many Christians, innocents, children?"
Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean slit Hamel's throat in front of a small group of worshippers before both were shot dead by police.
The attack, the first committed in the name of IS against a church in the West, came less than a fortnight after a jihadist drove a 19-tonne truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day on the seafront in the French coastal resort of Nice, killing 85 people and wounding more than 400.
Hollande will begin his Rome visit at San Luigi dei Francesi (Saint-Louis-des-Francais), France's national church in the Italian capital, to pay tribute to the victims of terrorism.
He will then go to the Vatican for a private meeting with the pope.
It will be Hollande's second visit to the Vatican as president. His first trip was in January 2014.
Relations between the Socialist Party leader and the Holy See have seen periods of tension triggered by Hollande's failed attempt to appoint an openly-gay diplomat as ambassador to the Vatican and a 2013 law in France allowing same-sex marriage.
The meeting on Wednesday will mark a "tightening of ties", Hollande's office said, adding that the pope and the French president agree on issues such as the climate and migrant crises as well as terrorism.
Updated Date: Aug 17, 2016 13:13 PM