Pope Francis has been invited to visit New Zealand by the Māori King, who attended a private audience with the Pope in the Vatican this weekend.
His Majesty Kiingi Tūheitia Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was accompanied by his wife Makau Ariki Atawhai and his daughter Te Puhi Arik Ngā Hono i te Po. It was his first visit to Rome and his first such Papal engagement, usually reserved for heads of state.
The king's mother, the late Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikahu, visited the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II in 1975.
He was also received by the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin after his meeting with Pope Francis. The discussion focused on social and political issues facing Māori and indigenous communities, including employment, health and education, and the need for cultural and interfaith unity.
While at the Vatican the Māori King also invited Pope Francis to his royal courts at Turangawaewae Marae in the Waikato town of Ngāruawāhia.
The last papal visit to New Zealand took place in November 1986, when Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Auckland Domain, where he wore a Māori feather cloak and addressed a huge crowd.
The royal party for the papal audience was also supported by a delegation that included the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Sir David Moxon and Archdeacon Ngira Simmonds.
The King was also hosted by the Australian ambassador to the Holy See, Melissa Hitchman at the formal luncheon. Also in attendance was were several foreign diplomats, as well as the New Zealand ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Fyfe and the New Zealand ambassador to Italy, Anthony Simpson.