Highly anticipated meeting prods US president to redouble efforts to pursue peace, he tweets
President Donald J. Trump left his meeting with Pope Francis Wednesday morning saying he would would not forget what the pontiff said and that he would read the pope’s writings.
The heart of the highly anticipated meeting was a private 30-minute conversation between the two world leaders in the papal library of the apostolic palace. By Wednesday afternoon the only clues as to what was discussed came in the form of a brief Vatican statement, couched in customary diplomatic language that relies more on the passive tense and avoids attributing any statements to either party.
“During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for 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,” the statement read. “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 healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.
“The discussions then enabled an exchange of views on various themes relating to 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.”
Accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, Trump presented the pope with an edition of the writings of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, perhaps harking back to Pope Francis’ evoking the slain civil rights leader’s memory in his 2016 address to Congress in Washington, D.C.
“These are books from Martin Luther King,” Trump said. “I think you will enjoy them.” He also presented a hand-made bronze sculpture by Geoffrey Smith, an artist from Florida, titled “Rising Above,” designed to evoke the values of unity and resilience, the Washington Post reported.
Pope Francis then presented the president with a small sculpture of an olive tree crafted by a Roman artist that the Pope said symbolizes peace.
“We can use peace,” Trump commented.
Francis also gave Trump copies of three documents of his pontificate: “The Joy of the Gospel;” the encyclical Laudato Si’, which touches on the threats to the environment, and “The Joy of Love,” his post-synod exhortation on the family. He also offered a copy of the 2017 papal message for the World Day of Peace which he said he signed personally for President Trump.
The Washington Post noted Trump’s reaction: “Ooh,” Trump commented. “That’s so beautiful.”
The World Day of Peace message says that “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.”
“Well, I’ll be reading them,” the president said in reference to the documents.
According to media reports, Trump is deciding whether to keep the United States in the Paris climate change agreement, which is expected to be the subject of discussion between Trump and newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders when they meet in Brussels later this week.
When Trump departed after the exchange of gifts and group photos, he told the pope: “Thank you, I won’t forget what you said.” The president then met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, accompanied by Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States. According to Gerard O’Connell of America magazine, that meeting was 50 minutes long.
Following a morning full of ceremony and packed with tours of various parts of the Vatican’s hallowed halls, Trump tweeted at about 2:20 p.m. local time that it was the “honor of a lifetime” to meet the Pope, and that he leaves the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue peace in the world.