VATICAN CITY -- Queen Elizabeth II -- bearing a basket of honey, whiskey and other goodies from the royal estates -- paid a visit to Pope France at the Vatican on Thursday. The pontiff returned the courtesy with a gift for Prince George, Elizabeth’s great-grandson.
The Argentine-born pope presented the queen with a stone orb topped with a sharp cross, saying it’s for "el ninetto" -- a term of endearment for little child. Elizabeth said George "will be thrilled by that -- when he’s a little older."
The exchange of gifts capped a meeting that included just under 20 minutes of private talk between Elizabeth, her husband, Prince Philip and Francis -- with communication facilitated by an interpreter. Francis did say "Welcome" in English when the royal couple arrived, about 20 minutes late for their appointment in a small room off the public audience hall.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Elizabeth told Francis. "We were having a very pleasant lunch with the president."
She was referring to Italy’s head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, who, with his wife, Cleo, hosted the queen and Philip for lunch at the presidential Quirinal palace.
The white-gloved monarch had arrived earlier in the day in Rome wearing a lilac-colored spring coat and matching hat that are practically the same colors of the wisteria blooming over much of the Italian capital. Previously, Elizabeth had met with four pontiffs, starting with Pius XII in 1951, a year before her accession to the throne.
Elizabeth is head of the Anglican church. There was no immediate word on what was discussed in the meeting with Francis, who is now in his second year as pontiff.
Elizabeth told the pope that the jar of honey in the wicker picnic hamper "is from my garden" at Buckingham Palace. "I hope that is unusual for you."
Francis looked startled when the prince at one point held up a bottle of Balmoral whiskey, from the royal estate in Scotland. Among the goodies were a bottle of cider and a dozen eggs.
The queen’s day in Rome was a makeup visit. Illness had forced her to cancel a 2013 trip to Rome when she was supposed to see Napolitano.
"She doesn’t like leaving obligations unfulfilled so she was determined to reinstate that visit," Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, told Vatican Radio.