Pope Francis welcomed Trump to the home of Roman Catholicism this Wednesday as he conveyed a characteristically diplomatic message despite the pope’s clear accentuation of the stark contrast between his role as a global moral model and Trump’s nationalist intentions.
The two met in the pope’s personal study for roughly half an hour, only accompanied by an interpreter to facilitate communication between the men. The pontiff, clad in a traditional white papal dress and a pectoral cross on a chain on his neck per usual, was seated behind a simple desk as Trump, dressed formally in a dark suit and navy striped tie, sat across from him in the only chair in front of the desk—in a scene which almost seems to be one of an interview.
The interaction, unsurprisingly, began awkwardly as Trump was visibly uneasy while he waited for a few moments in the Saint Ambrose room prior to shaking hands with the pope, who had a notably serious expression at the start of their meeting. However, the atmosphere soon warmed up.
The two cast aside their differences from last year’s campaign as Trump took on a presidential and courteous air as the slightly smiling pontiff appeared to be visually appraising the controversial US head of state.
A concise Vatican statement released later stated that the meeting had been “cordial,” and displayed hope for a partnership with the administration with a focus on “health care, education and assistance to immigrants.”
It stated that Trump and Pope Francis had exchanged perspectives regarding “international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.”
Trump and the pope also conversed about “extreme terrorist threats” and the “radicalization of young people,” according to what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters. He also claimed that in a later meeting with Trump, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, brought up the issue of climate change and encouraged Trump to uphold the US participation in the Paris climate accords—which is a subject the Trump administration is presently debating.
“We had a good exchange the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy,” Tillerson informed.
In his notoriously eloquent manner, Trump later deemed the meeting “great” and “fantastic.”
“He is something,” Trump declared regarding the pontiff. “We’re liking Italy very, very much and it was an honor to be with the pope.”
Once Pope Francis rang a bell indicating that the one-on-one conversation had culminated, the two exchanged official gifts. This began as the pope gifted Trump with a medallion created by a Roman artist in the shape of an olive tree, which is notably the symbol of peace.
“We can use peace,” Trump insightfully declared.
Later on, moments prior to setting off for Brussels, Trump took to his favored form of communication to reflect on the matter. He tweeted: “Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.”
At the Vatican, the pope additionally offered copies of his own writings on the subjects of family, the joy of the gospel and “care of our common home, the environment.”
“Well, I’ll be reading them,” Trump claimed.
Trump’s visit to the Vatican capped his journey of the week to endorse “tolerance” among followers of three of global religions and collaboration against extremism. On his first foreign trip as president, Trump has spoken before a summit of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and met with Israeli and Palestinian heads while in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Unsurprisingly considering the politics of Trump, the US leader and Pope Francis harbor conflicting points of view on everything from migrant rights to climate change.
Highlighting the contrasts between them, on Tuesday, Trump’s administration disclosed a budget that profoundly slashes aid to the poor. On the other hand, Pope Francis spent Tuesday celebrating the Rev. Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran archbishop murdered by right wing death squads of the nation and who advocated for social justice and the protection of the rights of the poor.
After their self-contained meeting, Trump expressed gratitude in the presence of the audience.
“Thank you,” Trump stated as he shook hands with the pontiff. “Thank you. I won’t forget what you said.”
First lady Melania Trump, clad in a rather somber black dress and black veil, was greeted by the pope as well and even briefly conversed with the religious figure. She seemed noticeably more animated than she did during the prior portions of the trip, in which she frequently stared out into the distance expressionlessly as her husband basked in the limelight.
The first lady happily chatted with the pope, who playfully joked with her in English and even elicited a laugh from her.
An attendant of the pontiff provided Melania with a small object that seemed to be a rosary as she was walking away. She subsequently turned around and asked that the pope bless it for her—a request which he effortlessly complied with.
Prior to leaving the Vatican, the Trump family was given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Additionally, Trump engaged in a 50-minute meeting with Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who essentially has the role of a foreign minister for the Vatican.
Trump later met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, and then he met with Prime Minister Pablo Gentiloni at Villa Taverna.
Among the gifts the pope gave Trump was a copy of the pontiff’s 2015 encyclical focusing on the environment and its relationship to social justice. Despite the fact that it antedates Trump’s presidency, the document appeared to be a heavily charged message to an administration that has openly displayed suspicion towards climate change and whose economic policies are arranged on profit and growth.
In it, Pope Francis critiqued the world’s leading countries for their deficiency of will to tackle man-made climate change. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming,” he opined in the work.
Trump is currently in the midst of deciding whether or not to sustain the Paris climate change contract—which has been the source of heated debate between his advisers. The pact is projected to be the topic of discussion between Trump and newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders during their meeting in Brussels later on this week.
The pope also gifted Trump with a copy of his January 2017 World Day of Peace message as he declared “I signed it personally for you.”
“Ooh,” Trump emphatically commented. “That’s so beautiful.”
The message makes clear note of how the previous century had been stained by two world wars, yet “today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal,” including “the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment.” Resonating with the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis made a plea for augmented engagement in “active and creative nonviolence.”
Trump in turn presented the pontiff with a first-edition set of King’s five books, all of which had been custom-bound and detailed with gold hand-tooling. Pope Francis publicly made reference to King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in his 2015 address to a joint session of Congress.
“These are books from Martin Luther King,” Trump stated. “I think you will enjoy them.”
Trump additionally presented the pontiff with a handmade bronze sculpture made by Florida artist Geoffrey Smith, titled “Rising Above,” and intended to conjure the values of unity and resilience.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who was also clad in a black dress and veil, and husband Jared Kushner, who is a senior White House adviser, also met the pope.
In another room in the Apostolic Palace, Trump introduced his family members present to Pope Francis, and they accordingly shook hands with the religious head. The Americans additionally present included Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, State Department officials Margaret Peterlin and Brian Hook, besides three longtime aides close to Trump. The aides are Hope Hicks, his communications adviser; Dan Scavino, who oversees Trump’s infamous Twitter account; and Keith Schiller, his past bodyguard who currently leads Oval Office operations.
In a highly public exchange last year, Trump and Pope Francis traded barbs. The pope designated Trump’s concerning proposition to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, which was a major focal point of his campaign, “not Christian.” Trump retorted by declaring that any religious leader who would make claims of this nature to be “disgraceful.”
Regardless of such, Vatican officials—likely in an attempt to assuage public expectations for a meeting that many believed could have easily been either be very ambassadorial or quite difficult and tense—have labeled Wednesday’s meeting as a prime chance for the US head of state and the head of the Roman Catholic Church to search for unifying common ground.
“It’s in nobody’s interest to try to win arguments,” declared a senior Vatican official whose identity is kept anonymous to preview the meeting. “The Holy See and the U.S. government will have their differences—as they always do—but there’s a whole range of issues they can work together on, and this kind of meeting can serve to get them off to a good start.”
Trump was allegedly “honored to go and meet the pope,” asserting that he “has a lot of respect” for Pope Francis, according to the statement of a senior administration official to reporters on Tuesday aboard Air Force One, as the president flew to Rome from Israel.
In St. Peter’s Square right outside the basilica, crowds of tourists and religious followers congregated to witness the pope’s appearance at his regular General Audience on Wednesdays.
“This is a beautiful meeting,” claimed Carlos Castillo, 18, from Vancouver, Canada, regarding Trump’s visit. “They have been criticizing each other from afar and now they are face to face.”
Herel Hughes, 24, a university student from Chicago, stated, “I hope the pope will be able to talk some sense into Trump.”
This past Tuesday night, a small number of Italians and Americans living in Rome organized an openly anti-Trump demonstration in Rome’s Piazza Bologna.
“I am not a Catholic, but this pope has stood up for migrant rights, for the poor, for everything Trump doesn’t,” opined Michele Renda, 39, who held a sign with the message: “Rome Resists.” “I think it’s outrageous that Trump is coming for the photo with the pope, to try to prove he is something he is not.”
“We in Italy, in Europe, looked up to the United States for its democracy,” Renda continued. “But not with Trump. Not with what he stands for.”
On Wednesday, police in Rome adopted a zero tolerance posture toward protesters. A group of Americans living in Rome, reported in a Facebook post that their fliers, which contained the statement “Build Bridges Not Walls,” were confiscated. According to their statement, after being briefly detained, they were informed by authorities that “any material that is even directly protesting Trump is prohibited in the center of Rome until he leaves the city.”
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