Polish President Andrzej Duda met with Pope Francis on Friday during his first official trip abroad since his narrow election victory in July.
The Holy See press office said on September 25 that after his audience with the pope, Duda met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.
“The cordial discussions took place in the context of the centenary of the birth of St John Paul II and the 40th anniversary of the founding of the independent autonomous trade union Solidarność [Solidarity],” the statement said.
“Some topics of mutual interest related to the mission of the Church were discussed, including the promotion of the family and the education of young people.”
“Finally, attention turned to some international issues, such as the current health emergency, the regional situation and security.”
The Polish president’s official website reported that Duda was the first president to be received by the pope since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. His wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, also attended the audience.
The president’s website quoted Duda as saying: “The Holy Father, Francis, pointed out that in recent years we have conducted a very effective policy for the family. He thanked me so much for that. I was deeply moved by these thanks.”
“He mentioned all the programs we had launched and that we care about families raising children. I am glad that the Holy Father knows about it, that the Holy See knows about it.”
While it was not clear precisely which aspects of Poland’s family policy the pope was praising, the government increased child benefits significantly in 2016 with the “Family 500+” program.
Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), won a second five-year term as president in July with 51.03% of the votes, with his challenger, Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, gaining 48.97%. The margin of victory was 422,630 votes in a country with a population of almost 38 million.
In the run-up to the election, Duda signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”
After his meeting with the pope, Duda attended Mass at the tomb of St. John Paul II, a native of Poland, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Afterwards, he laid a wreath before the tomb, wearing a black face-covering as protection against the coronavirus.
Duda had intended to travel to Rome onMay 18 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope’s birth, but was unable to do so because of the pandemic.
In a statement to journalists outside St. Peter’s Square, Duda said that he had discussed the situation in Belarus with Parolin. The country, which neighbors Poland, has seen widespread demonstrations since a disputed election on August 9. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference, was prevented from returning to Belarus after a trip to Poland on August 31.
Duda said: “Basically, we had a common opinion that all those who want real democracy, who want freedom, who want to live in an honest state, should be supported — these people should have our support. But, of course, Belarus should decide about itself in free and fair elections.”