VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald
Trump spent 30 minutes speaking privately in the library of the Apostolic
Palace May 24, and as the president left, he told the pope, "I won't
forget what you said."
The atmosphere at the beginning was formal and a bit stiff.
However, the mood lightened when Pope Francis met the first lady, Melania
Trump, and asked if she fed her husband "potica," a traditional cake
in Slovenia, her homeland. There were smiles all around.
Pope Francis gave Trump a split medallion held together by
an olive tree, which his interpreter told Trump is "a symbol of peace."
Speaking in Spanish, the pope told Trump, "I am giving
you this because I hope you may be this olive tree to make peace."
The president responded, "We can use peace."
Pope Francis also gave the president a copy of his message
for World Peace Day 2017 and told him, "I signed it personally for you."
In addition, he gave Trump copies of three of his documents: "The Joy of the
Gospel"; "Amoris Laetitia," on the family; and "Laudato Si,'" on the environment.
Knowing that Pope Francis frequently has quoted the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr., Trump presented Pope Francis with a large gift box
containing five of the slain civil rights leader's books, including a signed
copy of "The Strength to Love."
"I think you will enjoy them," Trump told the
pope. "I hope you do."
After meeting the pope, Trump went downstairs to meet
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul
Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister. He was accompanied by Rex Tillerson,
U.S. secretary of state, and H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. The
meeting lasted 50 minutes.
Tillerson later told reporters that climate change did not
come up in the meeting with the pope, but that U.S. officials had "a good
exchange on the climate change issue" with Cardinal Parolin.
"The cardinal was expressing their view that they think
it's an important issue," Tillerson said. "I think they were
encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good
exchange (on) 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
Asked how Trump responded to Cardinal Parolin's
encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: "The
president indicated we're still thinking about that, that he hasn't made a
final decision. He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime
Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up
for a decision when we return from this trip. It's an opportunity to hear from
people. We're developing our own recommendation on that. So it'll be something
that will probably be decided after we get home."
Tillerson also told reporters he did not know what Trump
meant when he told the pope, "I won't forget what you said."
The Vatican described the president's meetings with both the
pope and with top Vatican diplomats as consisting of "cordial discussions,"
with both sides appreciating "the good existing bilateral relations
between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint
commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience."
"It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration
between the state and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in
service to the people in the fields of health care, education and assistance to
immigrants," the Vatican said.
The discussions also included "an exchange of views"
on international affairs and on "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
Because of the pope's weekly general audience, Pope Francis
and Trump met at 8:30 a.m., an unusually early hour for a formal papal meeting.
The early hour meant Pope Francis still could greet the thousands of pilgrims
and visitors waiting for him in St. Peter's Square.
Many of those pilgrims, though, had a more difficult than
normal time getting into the square. Security measures were tight, with
hundreds of state police and military police patrolling the area and conducting
more attentive searches of pilgrims' bags.
Reaching the St. Damasus Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace,
where the U.S. flag flew for the morning, Trump was welcomed by Archbishop
Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, and a formation of 15 Swiss
Accompanied by the archbishop up an elevator and down a
frescoed hallway, the president passed more Swiss Guards in the Clementine
Although the president and Pope Francis are known to have
serious differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy and climate
change, the pope told reporters 11 days before the meeting that he would look
first for common ground with the U.S. leader.
"There are always doors that are not closed," the
pope told reporters May 13. "We have to find doors that are at least a
little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go
After leaving the Vatican, the president was driven across
Rome for meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister
Asked by reporters there how his meeting with the pope went,
Trump responded, "Great."
"He is something," Trump said. "We had a
Meanwhile, the first lady went to the Vatican-owned Bambino
Gesu children's hospital -- right next door to the Pontifical North American
College, which is where U.S. seminarians in Rome live. Trump's daughter,
Ivanka, went to the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay movement, for a
meeting on combating human trafficking.
The United States and the Vatican have long partnered on
anti-trafficking initiatives, a common effort White House officials had said
Trump hoped to discuss with the pope. The White House also pointed to a shared
commitment to promote religious freedom around the world and to end religious
The evening before Trump met the pope, the Vatican newspaper
carried two articles on Trump policies. One, echoing the U.S. bishops, praised
the Trump administration's decision to extend by six months the Temporary
Protected Status program for Haitian citizens in the United States.
The second article was about the budget plan the Trump White
House released May 23. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, noted that
it contained cuts in subsidies "for the poorest segments of the population"
and "a drastic -- 10 percent -- increase for military spending."
What is more, the newspaper said, "the budget also
includes financing for the construction of the wall along the border with
Mexico. We are talking about more than $1.6 billion."
The border wall is an issue where Pope Francis and President
Trump have a very clear and public difference of opinion.
In February 2016, shortly after celebrating a Mass in Mexico
just yards from the border, Pope Francis was asked by reporters about
then-candidate Trump's promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.
"A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever
it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said.
Trump, asked by reporters to comment on that, said Mexico
was "using the pope as a pawn," and he said it was "disgraceful"
for a religious leader to question someone's faith.
On the eve of the pope's meeting with Trump, Jesuit Father
Antonio Spadaro, editor of an influential Italian Jesuit journal, noted that
the differences between the two were drawing a lot of attention. However, he
wrote, "Francis, the pope of bridges, wants to speak with any head of
state who asks him to because he knows that in crises" like the world
faces today "there are not only absolute 'good guys' and absolute 'bad
"The history of the world is not a Hollywood film,"
Father Spadaro wrote on his blog May 23.
The pope's approach, he said, is "to meet the major
players in the field in order to reason together and to propose to everyone the
greatest good, exercising the soft power that seems to me to be the specific trait
of his international policy."