She may be Monegasque royalty but Princess Charlene's sporting background has not been forgotten. When the statuesque royal met with Pope Benedict XVI on a trip to the Vatican on Saturday the Catholic leader praised her for her past swimming triumphs. Pope Benedict XVI was aware that 34-year-old Charlene is a former Olympic swimmer for her native South Africa and congratulated her on the success she enjoyed during her athletic years.
The blonde princess chose a demure white lace gown, white gloves and veil for the occasion. Her outfit was in keeping with official Vatican protocol known as 'Privilege du blanc', literally translated as 'privilege of the white', whereby female Catholic monarchs and the wives of Catholic monarchs are permitted to wear white in an audience with the Pope. Ordinarily it is formal Vatican protocol for papal audiences to wear black garments with long sleeves and women are required also to wear a black veil known as a mantilla. Charlene is only one of a small number of European royals granted this privilege, others including the blue-blooded families of Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg. Alongside his wife fifty-four-year-old Prince Albert wore a navy blue suit complete with a matching tie.
As the new year gets underway Princess Charlene and Prince Albert are getting back to their routine as working royals and following a break over the festive season their visit to the Vatican was one of their first engagements of 2013. The royal couple met the Pope in his private library for a 15 minute meeting, conducted in French, during which they discussed the Catholic Church's contribution to life in the principality. Conversation also ranged across several current issues such as the environment and the preservation of the earth's natural resources. The latter is a topic close to the Prince's heart as he is often involved with helping environmental causes. In 2007 Albert showed support for the Year of the Dolphin project, in 2009 he went on a month long global warming research expedition to Antrarctica and he has also formed a collaboration with animal rights charity The Born Free Foundation concerning the wildlife that was being kept at Monaco's Jardin Animalier.
The meeting echoed that of Albert's mother and father 56 years ago. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace met Pope Pius XII in 1957 when they made their own official visit to the world's smallest independent state. Adding more royal history to proceedings Albert and Charlene, who married in 2011, gave the Pope a picture book about their ancestor Cardinal Jerome Grimaldi who lived during the 16th and 17th centuries.Returning his visitors' gesture His Holiness the Pope gifted the couple with a red pencil drawing of St Peter's Basilica known as a sanguigna. Prince Albert received the charming piece of artwork which he described as "beautiful". Whilst the Vatican visit was a first for Princess for Charlene Prince Albert and Pope Benedict's meeting was in fact their third. Monaco's sovereign was previously granted an audience with the Pope in both 2005 and 2009. Prior to that, in 1997, Albert met with Pope John Paul II, whose death in 2005 marked the beginning of Pope Benedict VXI's papacy.