Vatican City, 17 April 2019 (MIA/dpa) – Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg had a brief meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday on the sidelines of a Vatican event in St Peter’s Square.
“Thank you for standing up for the climate and for speaking the truth and really, it means a lot,” the 16-year-old campaigner told the pontiff, according to a 17-second video released by Vatican News.
“God bless you, continue to work, eh! continue … go on, go ahead!” Francis replied, after which they shook hands. The exchange was in English, a language the Argentine pope rarely uses.
Thunberg, known for spearheading student protests across Europe, was among the selected guests allowed a handshake opportunity with Francis at the end of the pontiff’s weekly audience.
She gave a slightly differently-worded account of meeting the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics in comments to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
“He was very friendly. He smiled the whole time,” Thunberg said. “I thanked him for fighting for climate. And he said: ‘Carry on, Greta. Just carry on!'”
In pictures of the event, Thunberg could be seen holding up a banner reading “Join the climate strike” and referring to “Laudato Si,” a landmark papal document Francis dedicated to environmental issues.
The Vatican said Thunberg asked for the meeting with Francis, who has a reputation as a green pope: among other things, he has labelled climate change deniers “stupid.”
Thunberg has galvanized young people across Europe and beyond with her environmental activism since organizing a school strike and rally outside the Swedish parliament in August.
At the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, she called for a reduction in CO2 emissions by at least 50 per cent within 10 years, the EU assembly said in a statement.
To limit her carbon footprint, Thunberg is travelling around Europe by train. Arriving at Rome’s Tiburtina station, she was greeted by fans who asked her to pose for selfies.
“Don’t talk about me, talk about climate change,” Italian daily La Repubblica, who travelled with Thunberg from Strasbourg to Rome, quoted her as saying during the journey.
In the Italian capital, Thunberg was scheduled to speak at the Italian Senate on Thursday and take part in a “Fridays for Future” protest expected to be attended by thousands of Italian students.
“Fridays for Future” events are school strikes which encourage pupils to skip their Friday classes and take to the street to push politicians towards stricter climate policies.
This week’s demonstration, however, takes place on Good Friday, when Italian schools are closed, so students taking part will be taking time out of their Easter holidays to attend.