FILE - In this file photo dated Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva celebrates after scoring a goal during a friendly soccer match in Guararema, Brazil. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and received a papal blessing, with the encounter being posted on his social media accounts, Thursday Feb. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine, FILE)

Ex-Brazilian leader da Silva meets the pope, gets blessing

February 13, 2020 - 1:55 pm

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met Thursday with Pope Francis at the Vatican, received a papal blessing and said the two discussed prospects for a “more just and fraternal world."

Da Silva posted photos of the encounter on his Twitter and Facebook accounts with a brief comment about the content of their meeting. The Vatican had no comment and didn't even list the audience, which lasted an hour, on Francis' official agenda Thursday.

Da Silva was released from prison in early November after 19 months in detention, when Brazil's Supreme Court ruled a person can be imprisoned only after all appeals have been exhausted. Later that month, a court upheld the corruption conviction and ruled his sentence should be raised by four years to 17 years.

Da Silva, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010, denies wrongdoing and says the corruption charges against him are politically motivated.

Francis, the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere, has had close ties to leftist Latin American leaders, including Da Silva and former Bolivian President Evo Morales, who resigned the presidency in November after allegations of fraud in Bolivia's Oct. 20 presidential election.

The audience came a day after Francis released his major document on the Amazon, in which he denounced the destruction of the rain forest and the exploitation of indigenous peoples.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a conservative whom critics have blasted for increasing logging and mining activities in the Amazon, referred to Francis' claim in the document that the rain forest belongs to everyone.

Bolsonaro, who has insisted the Amazon is Brazilian, quipped: “By coincidence, the Argentine ambassador was here. I said, `The Pope is Argentine, but God is Brazilian.’”

It was a reference to frequent claims by Da Silva and other Brazilian leaders that “God is Brazilian."

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The story corrects the spelling of Bolsonaro on second reference.

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