Pope Francis has described President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins as a "wise man of today" and said that Ireland was fortunate to have such a wise leader as its head of state. 

President Higgins met Pope Francis for the fourth time on Friday morning in the Vatican and discussed a number of topical issues, including climate change and wealth inequality. 

During a photocall before a private meeting in the Papal Library, Pope Francis described Higgins as "one of the wise men of today". 

"I would like to thank you all, to thank the President for his visit. I would like to say to all you, it’s not only the President that is with you, but a wise man has visited me. One of the wise men of today," Pope Francis told reporters on Friday morning. 

"I thank God that Ireland has such a wise man as its Head (of State)." 

Higgins presented the Pope with a "Bata Iascaire" or "Fisherman's Stick" that was made on Inis Mór in the Aran Islands. 

The blackthorn stick was designed by artist Lochlainn Cullen, who wove a special cotton around the sticks using knots drawn from fishing. 

The President's wife Sabina, who turned 80 on Wednesday, reportedly wept as she met the Pope on Friday morning. 

President Higgins met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin following the audience with the Pope. 

A Vatican statement said that the talks between Higgins and various Vatican officials were "cordial". 

"During the cordial talks, various matters of mutual interest were discussed, such as migration and the protection of the environment, with particular attention to the prospects of the 26th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26), to take place in Glasgow," a Vatican spokesperson said in a statement. 

"There was also a joint reflection on the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the future of Europe, focusing finally on the theme of the strengthening of the peace process in the country." 

Higgins and his wife Sabina were accompanied by Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher and Ireland's Ambassador to the Holy See Derek Hannon.