CHARLES CHISALA, Vatican
THE warm relations Zambia has enjoyed with the Catholic Church over the decades moved to a new level yesterday when President Lungu and Pope Francis held lengthy private talks at the Vatican City.
Vatican officials and a Zambian priest based at the Vatican described the meeting as one of the longest the Pope has held with a visiting head of State or government.
The President arrived at the Cortile S Damaso (the Damaso Square), the pontifical edificeâ€™s main courtyard, with his small entourage which included First Lady Esther, Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba and special assistant for press and public relations Amos Chanda at 11:30 hours.
He was received by Prefect of the Pontifical House Bishop Ganswein.
President Lungu inspected a colourful guard of honour mounted by a resplendently dressed Swiss guard.
After shaking hands with senior officials from the Pope and Secretary of Stateâ€™s offices, who were introduced to him by Bishop Ganswein, the President was ushered into the pontifical complex.
The Pope shook the Presidentâ€™s hand and invited him into his private library.
Journalists were allowed a few minutes to take photographs and asked to leave.
The Pope and President Lungu then held private talks that lasted 28 minutes, from 10:41 hours to 11:09 hours.
After the talks, journalists were allowed into the library to witness the exchange of gifts between the two leaders.
President Lungu was the first to present his gift, an art work depicting Zambiaâ€™s abundant wildlife represented by the big five animals (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo) and explained to the Pope that Zambia has plenty of wildlife.
After receiving the gift, the Pope presented his to the President and gave rosaries to Mr Lunguâ€™s entourage.
The two then shook hands before President Lungu was led to Popeâ€™s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolinâ€™s office.
The meeting between President Lungu and Cardinal Parolin lasted about 40 minutes, from 11:26 hours to 12:15 hours.
After the meeting, the Presidentâ€™s motorcade drove out of the pontifical office complex back to the Hotel Westin Excelsior.
And former Zambia Episcopal Conference spokesperson Father Paul Samasumo, who is now based at the Vatican, said the meeting between Pope Francis and President Lungu was one of the longest.
Fr Samasumo said it was unusual for the Pope to spend more than 15 minutes with a visiting head of State.
â€œFor the Pope to spend almost 30 minutes with our President, [it] reflects the high esteem in which he holds our head of State. It is a good sign of the strong relations between the Vatican and the Zambian government,â€ he said.
CHARLES CHISALA, Vatican