Unpopular Hollande to meet Pope Francis

France's president Francois Hollande arrives at the ENSICA (National School of aeronautical structures Engineering) in Toulouse, Southern France, on Jan 9, 2014. Mr Hollande will meet Pope Francis this month, the Vatican said on Thursday, after
France's president Francois Hollande arrives at the ENSICA (National School of aeronautical structures Engineering) in Toulouse, Southern France, on Jan 9, 2014. Mr Hollande will meet Pope Francis this month, the Vatican said on Thursday, after failing to visit on four previous trips to Rome since being elected and with his popularity at a low ebb. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande will meet Pope Francis this month, the Vatican said on Thursday, after failing to visit on four previous trips to Rome since being elected and with his popularity at a low ebb.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters that the meeting would take place on Jan 24.

France's Socialist government and the Vatican have been at odds over a variety of issues including the recent legalisation of gay marriage and plans to legalise euthanasia, which goes against Catholic doctrine.

There is common ground, however, on the desire for social justice and peace, particularly in conflict-torn parts of Africa, as well as the protection of Christian minorities in the Middle East and environmental issues.

Hollande is a strong supporter of France's secular values but in a Christmas greeting he backed the pope's message of solidarity saying he had "touched the heart of our compatriots and not just of Catholics".

The president faces tricky municipal and European elections this year and his ratings have fallen to only around a quarter of the population since he was elected in 2012, according to recent opinion polls.

The Argentine pope on the other hand has a popularity rating of 85 per cent among French people, including Catholics and non-Catholics, a survey by BVA-Le Parisien from last month found.

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