Pope Francis and Donald Trump Meet at the Vatican
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis welcomed President Trump to the Vatican on Wednesday, smiling and shaking his hand before ushering him into his study for the first face-to-face meeting of the two leaders, who symbolize starkly different views of the world.
Shortly after 8 a.m., under a crystalline blue sky, the president’s motorcade rolled into the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where an honor guard of ostrich-plumed Swiss Guards saluted as Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, stepped out of an armored limousine.
A few minutes before Mr. Trump’s arrival, the pope arrived at the palace in a blue Ford Focus. He stepped out of the car and walked into a side entrance.
For the president, who arrived in Rome after stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, the audience in the Vatican caps a tour of the ancestral homes of three of the world’s great monotheistic religions. For Francis, who recently made his own landmark visit to Egypt last month, it was a chance to welcome a second American leader, after President Barack Obama paid his respects in 2014.
Smiles and pleasantries aside, the atmospherics of this meeting were far more fraught. Pope Francis and Mr. Trump have diametrically opposed views on issues as varied as immigration, climate change and arms sales. Although both men seemed determined not to let politics intrude on their encounter, the underlying tensions were clear.
On Tuesday night, Cardinal Peter Turkson, a top Vatican official with close ties to Francis, acknowledged the differences in a post on Twitter: “Pope Francis & Pres Trump reach out to Islam-world to exorcise it of rel. Violence. One offers peace of dialogue, the other security of arms,” he wrote, in an apparent reference to the $110 billion weapons sale that Mr. Trump concluded with Saudi Arabia.
The pope and the president were both elected as outsiders promising to carry the far-off voices of the forgotten to the centers of global power. But that is more or less where the similarities end.
Mr. Trump is the scion of a real estate developer and a thrice-married lover of all things gilded. Pope Francis has made a calling card out of modesty. When, in 2013, he paid his own hotel bill after being elected pope, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter: “I don’t like seeing the Pope standing at the checkout counter (front desk) of a hotel in order to pay his bill. It’s not Pope-like!”
The two also have fundamentally different views about how to restore balance to a global economic system they consider broken, with Mr. Trump focusing on the engines of capitalism and Pope Francis fighting to protect the workers and the disadvantaged from dehumanizing forces of the modern world.
“The thing they have in common is a major responsibility to govern,” said Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest who edits the Vatican-approved journal La Civiltà Cattolica. “The pope is an actor on the world stage and Trump is the president of a country with a huge impact on the world.”
Pope Francis, a savvy political operator, had signaled in the days leading up to the meeting that he was not seeking a confrontation.
Speaking on the papal plane after a recent trip to Fátima, Portugal, Francis was asked what he expected from the meeting. “In our talk, things will come out, I will say what I think, he will say what he thinks, but I never, ever, wanted to make a judgment without hearing the person,” he said.
That is a far cry from his previous remarks about Mr. Trump. In February 2016, Francis responded to a question about the president’s hard line against immigrants and his desire to build a wall along the border with Mexico, telling reporters, “A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Mr. Trump, a candidate at the time, swiftly returned fire. “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” he said at a campaign rally in South Carolina.
“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” he continued. “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’ ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.”