Pope Francis has been photographed in the Vatican holding a sign calling for Argentine-UK talks about the Falkland Islands, called Malvinas in Argentina.
The pontiff is from Argentina. He received the sign from Gustavo Hoyo, leader of a campaign for dialogue on the islands, during a papal audience.
A senior Vatican official told the BBC that Pope Francis “did not know and did not realise what was written on it”.
In 1982 UK forces defeated Argentine troops, who had invaded the Falklands.
The war left Argentina and the UK still disputing the islands’ sovereignty – but a UN resolution has called for dialogue to reach a settlement.
The sign held by the Pope on Wednesday said: “It’s time for dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands.”
Vatican official Ciro Benedittini said that “during the general audience many people hand the Pope different items”. He said the Pope was unaware of the message on the sign, “so there is no endorsement of what was written”.
However, Mr Hoyo told Argentina’s Clarin newspaper that “when he (the Pope) passed by, I explained what this was about and he kindly took the placard and got the picture taken.
“He could have chosen not to do it, but he did.”
‘Awkward for Vatican’ – by James Reynolds in Rome
The best time to try to hand something to the Pope is on Wednesday morning – during his General Audience.
In the four minutes it took Pope Francis to walk through the crowd at his most recent audience, he was offered the following: seven babies (all safely returned), five flags, three shirts, one painting, one boy scout neckerchief, one magazine, and one stuffed toy (a rabbit).
The Argentine campaigners didn’t have to fight their way through this crowd. They met the Pope during a quieter moment in the Audience.
The Vatican now finds itself in an awkward position. It allowed the campaigners to meet the Pope – with a possible idea of what they might want. But it also insists that the Pope didn’t know what was written on the placard, and is not endorsing the campaigners’ cause.
Kissing babies is more straightforward.
Until March 2013, Pope Francis was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires.
As cardinal he spoke emotionally about the Argentine soldiers who had died in the war, who “went out to defend their mothers, their homeland, and reclaim what is theirs – the homeland – and which was taken from them”.
In February 2013 Argentina turned down a UK Foreign Office invitation to meet members of the Falkland Islands government.
Soon afterwards, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner asked him to intervene as Pope and promote a dialogue with the UK on the islands.
An overwhelming majority of Falkland residents voted in March 2013 to remain a British territory. About 2,900 people live on the islands.