'I send my greetings to the people of Ireland and I ask for their prayers'
POPE Francis sought the prayers of the people of Ireland, as he warmly greeted President Michael D Higgins at the papal inauguration ceremony.
President Higgins addressed the new Jesuit Pope in Spanish when he clasped his hands at the ceremony witnessed by hundreds of thousands of worshippers in the Vatican.
"I send my greetings to the people of Ireland and I ask them for their prayers," responded Pope Francis in English.
Mr Higgins, who was accompanied by his wife Sabina, also thanked the first Latin American to lead the Catholic Church for his St Patrick's Day message so early in his pontificate, as he wished the nation "peace and prosperity" on the national day.
"On behalf of the Irish people who hold a special affection for the people of South America, I want to wish you every success in your vision for the church," continued President Higgins in Spanish.
"My wish for you on behalf of the people of Ireland is for the best of health in your mission on behalf of all of humanity.
"I'd like to leave you with a message in my own native language."
In Irish, Mr Higgins said: "I wish you good health and success in your pontificate and its advocacy on behalf of the poor of our vulnerable planet."
Mr Higgins represented the State, while Minister for Finance Michael Noonan attended in place of the Government.
Mr Higgins also said that the decision to shut down the embassy to the Vatican could be reviewed "over time".
The Government's decision to shut down the embassy more than a year ago attracted protests – particularly because it came shortly after Taoiseach Enda Kenny had criticised the Vatican for failing to co-operate with state inquiries into clerical sexual abuse of children.