ROME – On Monday, Pope Francis and Europe’s youngest political leader met at the Vatican, where they discussed an array of issues including migration, nuclear disarmament and the need to promote peace and solidarity.
Sebastian Kurz, 31, is the Chancellor of Austria and is currently the youngest European leader in office. Prior to his December 2017 election to the position, he served as the nation’s Foreign Minister.
Traveling as part of Kurz’s official 6-person delegation for his March 5 meeting with the pontiff was Wilfried Haslauer, the governor of Salzburg, who was present in honor of the 200th anniversary of the well-known Christmas hymn “Stille Nacth,” or “Silent Night.”
Written by Austrian Catholic priest Father Joseph Mohr and composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, the now world-famous hymn was first played in the church in Oberdorf bei Salzburg Christmas night 1818. In his brief greeting to Francis, Haslauer invited the pope to visit the city for this year’s anniversary celebrations.
In their roughly 35-minute private exchange, Francis and Kurz spoke with the help of an Italian-German interpreter, with migration emerging as a key theme.
Kurz, who served as foreign minister at the height of the European migrant and refugee crisis in 2015-2016, has insisted that the current E.U. migrant/refugee quota will not solve the problem, and has urged that borders be closed and migrants without the right to asylum be rejected.
According to a March 5 Vatican communique on the meeting, discussion between the two also touched on the need to promote the common good, especially in regards to the most vulnerable sectors of society, and the need to promote solidarity.
In this regard, protection of life and the family was also discussed, as well as current international issues such as promoting peace and nuclear disarmament.
Both the positive relationship between the Holy See and Austria, as well as the latter’s contribution to the European Union, were also discussed.
Francis and Kurz exchanged a few words among themselves in German both at the beginning and end of the meeting, as the pope himself has a limited capacity in the language.
They then exchanged gifts, with the chancellor giving Francis a type of certificate commemorating the anniversary of Silent Night. The pope, on his part, gave Kurz a medal depicting St. Michael killing the demon of war, as well as copies of his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, and his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
Francis also gave the chancellor a copy of this year’s message for peace, which he signed and presented to Kurz after greeting the delegation.
Kurz’s visit Monday marks the second official visit he has made to the Vatican, the first being a 2015 meeting while still foreign minister. In December, in his former role as Chairman-in-Office for OSCE, he met with Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
After his meeting with the pope, Kurz had a private discussion with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Under-Secretary for Relations with States Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, who was recently named a nuncio by Francis.