Blog Post

Iranian President Visits Pope, Sparks Uproar

hassan rouhaniIranian President Hassan Rouhani met with Pope Francis for 40 minutes yesterday while on a state visit to Italy where authorities angered citizens by covering up statues of nude subjects to avoid offending the Iranian leader.

The Vatican Information Service (VIS) is reporting on the audience given to Rouhani yesterday in which the two discussed common spiritual values, and the need to promote the dignity of the human person and religious freedom.

“Attention then turned to the conclusion and application of the Nuclear Accord and the important role that Iran is called upon to fulfill, along with other countries in the Region, to promote suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East, to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking,” the VIS reports. “In this respect, the Parties highlighted the importance of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace.”

According to the Catholic Herald, as the Iranian entourage was leaving the papal library, the pope said, “Thank you for this visit. I have high hopes for peace.”

“I ask you to pray for me,” Rouhani replied through a translator and told Francis that meeting had been “a true pleasure” and wished him good luck with his work.

The two also exchanged gifts during the meeting. Rouhani gave the Pope a rug hand-crafted in Qom, a city considered sacred to Shiite Muslims. He also gave him a book of reproductions of Persian miniatures painted by Mahmoud Farshchian who currently resides in the United States.

Pope Francis gifted Rouhani with a large medallion of St Martin of Tours which depicts the saint giving his cloak to a poor person. The Pope told Rouhani the image represents “a sign of selfless fraternity.” He was also given a copy of the encyclical letter, Laudato Si.

Outside the walls of the Vatican, however, Rouhani’s reception was met with public disdain when Italian authorities covered up naked statues in a world-famous museum in Rome in anticipation of a visit by the Iranian leader.

“Rouhani toured the Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) – which hosts a huge collection of artefacts from the ancient, medieval and renaissance periods,” reports the International Business Times (IBT).

“However, the Iranian leader could not admire some of the museum's masterpieces, as all marbles depicting naked scenes had been carefully hid behind large white panels.”

Authorities claimed they were merely showing respect to Rouhani for fear that the naked images of Roman gods might offend his sensitivities. Wine was also banned from official receptions during his visit.

“The move angered many Italians, who have accused authorities of betraying the country's cultural heritage in the name of political correctness and business interests," the IBT reports. "Hundreds of people voiced their displeasure online, with some posting photos of unclothed icons online under the hashtag 'statuenude' (naked statues) in protest.”

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has thus far refused to comment on the controversy.

Rouhani, a former lawmaker and diplomat, visited Italy and France with the hopes of re-establishing stronger diplomatic and commercial ties with Europe after decades of sanctions.

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