Queen to meet Pope Francis for the first time with visit to the Vatican her first foreign trip in more than two yearsWorld
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican today.
The royal couple will travel to Italy for a one day visit following a private invitation from the President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano.
They will visit the Quirinal Palace in Rome, the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, where they will attend a private lunch hosted by Mr Napolitano.
The couple will have a private audience afterwards with Pope Francis in the Pope's Study, part of a suite of rooms within the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall, close to the Casa Santa Marta, the guest house in the Vatican where the Pope has chosen to live.
It will be the first time the Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, has met Pope Francis who was installed just over a year ago as leader of the world's Roman Catholics.
The visit to Italy is the first foreign trip in more than two years by the Queen and comes before her 88th birthday on April 21.
The monarch marked her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 by travelling throughout the UK, leaving other royal family members to undertake overseas visits on her behalf.
The Queen was scheduled to visit Italy last year but the trip had to be postponed because she was unwell.
The meeting between the Queen and the Pope comes in the centenary year of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the British Government in 1914 after they were broken off in the 16th century.
The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Pope Francis are expected to be assisted by an interpreter during the private audience.
The Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is expected to be present to greet the Queen at the Vatican on her arrival, along with his private secretary, Monsignor Robert Murphy.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the retired Archbishop of Westminster, and former leader of Catholics in England and Wales, will also be present in the group greeting the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on her arrival at the Vatican.
The Cardinal, an old friend of the pope, also has a close relationship with the royal family.
He has spoken of how the Pope asked him to convey his warmest greetings to the Queen just two days after his election last year.
The private audience is expected to last around half an hour and the Pope is thought likely to speak in Italian or Spanish.
It is believed that the 77-year-old Argentine-born Pope - who once described himself as from the ‘ends of the earth’ - has never visited Britain.
Nigel Baker, British Ambassador to the Holy See, said: ‘The visit of her Majesty the Queen to the Vatican and the audience with Pope Francis is a reaffirmation of the strength of the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See in a year in which we celebrate the centenary of the restablishment of diplomatic relations with the Holy See.’
Asked to comment on the issue of the Falkland Islands, Mr Baker said: ‘The Vatican has been clear with us including in the last week and at a very senior level that their long standing position of neutrality on the issue remains in force.’
No black for Queen at Papal meeting
When the Queen meets the Pope in Italy, the relaxed event will have a very different feel from her previous encounters with the Pontiff on Italian soil.
This time, the Queen will not wear black or a veil, as she has done on other visits.
In 1980 when meeting Pope John Paul II in Rome, she dressed entirely in black in keeping with Vatican protocol, with a tiara holding a cascade veil in place, just as she had done on her visit to Pope John XXIII in 1961.
In 2000, the Queen wore black again, but with a hat and a shorter veil. This was despite royal tradition that female members of the royal family do not wear black other than when in mourning.
Buckingham Palace confirmed the Queen would not wear black or a mantilla - a lace veil - this time. A spokeswoman said: ‘It is in keeping with the informal nature of the visit.’
In 1951, when she was Princess Elizabeth, she meet Pope Pius XII and wore a floor length black gown with a long black veil.
In September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI made the first ever official Papal visit to Britain. Pope John Paul II's 1982 trip to the UK was a pastoral one.
Since the Queen's last meeting with a Pope in 2010, the monarchy's relationship with Catholicism has altered - with a partial end to the 300-year-old discrimination against those of the Catholic faith.
The introduction of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which comes into force once it is approved by all 15 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state, means that members of the royal family who marry a Catholic no longer lose their place in line to the throne.
But the current prohibition on the monarch being a Catholic still remains in force.
Meetings between the royal family and Catholic popes are usually events full of tradition, drama and sometimes humour.
It is said Queen Mary disliked wearing black so much she arrived with George V for an audience with Pope Pius XI in 1923 in a white dress complete with a pearl necklace and choker.
During an audience with John Paul II, Princess Diana asked the Pope about a wound he suffered in an assassination attempt a few years before, but he misinterpreted it amusingly.
Quoted in his biography the Prince of Wales wrote that his wife ‘...patted her tummy to indicate where he had been shot, but he didn't seem to understand what she was saying and replied with a beatific smile that she was the creator of life and seemed to bless her tummy - presumably, Diana surmised, because he mistook her as saying she was pregnant.’
The Queen and the Pope are meeting during Lent, traditionally a time of fasting and reflection.