Trump meets with Pope for first time

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Trump greeted Francis in Sala del Tronetto, the room of the little throne, on the second floor of Apostolic Palace Wednesday morning.

The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — President Donald Trump met with Pope Francis, the famously humble pontiff with whom he has publicly clashed, concluding his tour of the ancestral homes of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions.

 

Trump, midway through his grueling nine-day maiden international journey, called upon the pontiff at the Vatican early Wednesday where the two had a private 30-minute meeting laden with religious symbolism and ancient protocol. The president, accompanied by his wife and several aides, arrived at the Vatican just after 8 a.m. local time. The president greeted Francis in Sala del Tronetto, the room of the little throne, on the second floor of Apostolic Palace Wednesday morning.

 

The men shook hands and Trump could be heard thanking the pope and saying it was “a great honor” to be there. They then posed for photographs and then sat down at the papal desk, the pope unsmiling, as their private meeting began.

 

It ended a half hour later when Francis rang the bell in his private study. The pontiff was then introduced to members of Trump’s delegation, including his wife Melania, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as aides Hope Hicks and Dan Scavino. As is tradition, the pope and president then exchanged gifts.

 

The meeting could provide powerful imagery to Catholic voters back in the United States as well as the possibility for conflict between a president and a pope who have not often seen eye-to-eye.

 

The two men’s often opposite worldviews collided head-on early last year, when Francis was sharply critical of Trump’s campaign pledge to build an impenetrable wall on the Mexican border and his declaration that the United States should turn away Muslim immigrants and refugees.

 

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said then. The pontiff has been a vocal advocate for aiding refugees, particularly those fleeing the violence in Syria, deeming it both a “moral imperative” and “Christian duty” to help.

 

Trump has never been one to let an insult, perceived or real, go by without a response, and he made no exception for the world’s best-known religious leader. He called Francis “disgraceful” for doubting his faith.

 

And even the pontiff’s congratulatory message sent to mark Trump’s inauguration contained a sly reference to their disagreement, as the pope wrote that he hoped the United States’ international stature would “continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need.”

 

Trump arrived in Rome Tuesday evening, his motorcade closing a busy Italian highway just after rush hour and prompting hundreds of onlookers to briefly step out of their gridlocked cars to gawk at the fleet of armored vehicles. He spent the night at the U.S. ambassador to Italy’s residence.

 

Though both Trump and Francis are known for their unpredictability, papal visits with heads of state are carefully arranged bits of political and religious theater that follow a specific program, with little room for deviation or unwanted surprises. Trump was expected to be given a tour of the Vatican after he arrived and then meet with the pontiff in his library. The two men were to be left alone with a translator to hold a private discussion before emerging again to exchange gifts and farewells.

 

Trump is the 13th president to visit the Vatican.

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