Vatican officials announced May 4 that President Donald Trump will visit the Vatican on May 24 as part of a trip that includes stops in Brussels, Sicily, Israel and Saudi Arabia. It’s Trump’s first foreign visit since his election last November. He will attend a NATO meeting May 25 in Brussels and a G7 Summit May 26 and 27 in Sicily.
According to the Vatican’s press office, the two leaders will first meet in the Apostolic Palace, with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for relations with states, also in attendance. Later, Francis and Trump will move to the papal library for a private meeting, joined only by Vatican and White House translators.
While the encounter is sure to attract media attention, meetings between the pope and heads of state are common. “I receive every head of state who asks for an audience,” Pope Francis told reporters April 29.
For some political leaders, an audience with the pope is little more than a photo opp. When the former prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, visited Pope Francis in June 2015, the meeting lasted 10 minutes. Conversely, Barack Obama spent nearly an hour with the pope during his only audience in March 2014.
Another factor in the upcoming meeting is the date chosen — a Wednesday, a day reserved for the pope’s general audiences. According to Commonweal’s Robert Mickens, the White House proposed the date and the Vatican accepted it. But not without stipulations.
“Usually, these encounters take place at mid-morning. But Francis obviously made it clear that he was not going to cancel or delay his 10 a.m. appointment with tens of thousands of people who fill St. Peter’s Square each Wednesday for the general audience,” wrote Mickens. “If Francis wants to keep on schedule, he won’t be able to spend much more than a half-hour with Trump.”
No one knows how their conversation will go. No two people could be more different in their beliefs on most topics or their engagement style with others. For example, both men share a practice of posting “tweets” nearly every day on Twitter. While Pope Francis uses his account to build up, Trump often uses his to criticize. The words they use set them oceans apart.
For example, on borders and walls:
- Pope Francis (@Pontifex), March 18, 2017: “I invite you not to build walls but bridges, to conquer evil with good, offense with forgiveness, to live in peace with everyone.”
- Trump (@realDonaldTrump), April 23, 2017: “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying in some form, for the badly needed border wall.”
On climate change:
- Pope Francis, April 21, 2016: “Climate change represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity today, and the response requires the solidarity of all.”
- Trump, Jan. 1, 2014: “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING (expletive) has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”
- Pope Francis, Aug. 15, 2014: “The martyrs teach us that wealth, prestige and honor have little importance: Christ is the only true treasure.”
- Trump, Oct. 9, 2012: “‘In order to build your wealth and improve your business smarts, you need to know about real estate.’ — Think Like a Billionaire.”
One thing Pope Francis has going for him is his ability to make people feel important. Such an introduction should please Trump and it could help build bridges.
The world will be watching as Francis and Trump exchange handshakes and words. In this month of Mary, let us ask for the Blessed Mother’s intercession: that the pope can shed new insights into important human rights and justice issues during his meeting with Trump, and that the president is open to dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution.