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Pope Francis made history Monday by shaking hands with a saint — a Latter-day Saint.

The pontiff greeted Mormon leader Henry B. Eyring at the Vatican, marking what is believed to be the first time a Catholic pope and a top LDS general authority have met face to face.

Eyring, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is in Rome — along with religious leaders and scholars from 14 faiths and 23 countries — for a three-day "colloquium" titled "An International Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman."

The pope opened this week's global gathering with an address focused on the importance of the family, the ills that follow its decline and a hope that attendees will consider ways to shore up the institution.

The popular pontiff lamented the "decline of marriage culture," which, Francis said, "is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly."

Mormons and Catholics joined in opposition to same-sex marriage, particularly with California's Proposition 8, a move to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

"At this time of rapidly declining moral values and the challenges to traditional family structures and relationships throughout the world," an LDS Church statement said, "we are pleased to unite with the Catholic Church, other fellow Christian denominations and other world religions in standing firm and speaking clearly about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."

Eyring is poised to address the Vatican conference Tuesday at 8 a.m. MST.

While LDS leaders have met key Catholic officials in the past, and a couple of Mormon apostles previously attended a papal prayer service, the Francis-Eyring exchange is thought to be the highest-level encounter between the Utah-based faith and the world's largest Christian denomination.

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