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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Prince Charles took his campaign to save the world from the ravages of climate change to Pope Benedict on Monday when he had his first meeting with the pontiff.
Charles met the pope shortly after making a major speech on the environment to Italy's parliament, where he said that unless the international community acted together to tackle climate change, a "new Dark Age" could hit the world.
The prince and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, spoke to the pope privately for about 15 minutes in the pontiff's private study in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.
Camilla, Charles' long-time lover before she married the prince in 2005, seemed somewhat tense before the pope, according to a pool report by journalists who witnessed an exchange of gifts after the private part of the audience.
She wore a black dress with a black veil to the audience, in keeping with Vatican protocol. She and Charles, the future head of the Anglican Church, are both divorced.
Charles and his first wife, Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, met the late Pope John Paul at the Vatican in 1985.
In an apparent reference to the late pope, reporters heard Charles tell Benedict during a picture-taking session: "He was such a wonderful man, we miss him terribly."
A Vatican statement said "environmental protection" was one of the subjects discussed during the private audience, along with inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and peace.
Environmental issues are a favourite speaking topic of both Charles and the pope.
"History will judge us by how we respond to this challenge of climate change," the prince told parliament in his address before the papal audience.
He said that the choice was being remembered for introducing either "a Renaissance that led the world towards a genuinely sustainable existence (or for allowing) a new Dark Age to sprawl across our future, plunging us on a course towards catastrophe."
He said climate change was far more urgent than the current economic crisis.
"I believe that the response we make now to the challenge (of climate change) before us will be the single most critical element in defining our era -- and it will be the one by which our generation will be judged," he said.
"As the world struggles with the consequences of the economic crisis in which we find ourselves, you might think this an odd analysis. But, ladies and gentlemen, I fear that any of the difficulties we face today will be as nothing when the full horror of global warming unfolds," the told parliament.