ROME – On Friday the U.S. State Department confirmed a European tour for United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken next week that will include stops in Italy and the Vatican, where he is expected to meet with top Holy See officials.
According to the State Department’s June 18 communique, Blinken’s tour will last from June 22-29. He will first visit Berlin and Paris before coming to Italy, making stops in Rome, the Vatican, Bari, and Matera.
While in Rome, he will co-chair a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS alongside Italian Foreign Minister Luigi De Maio, and he will also participate in a ministerial on Syria to discuss the country’s status and highlight the importance of addressing humanitarian needs amid Syria’s ongoing crisis.
He is also scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with De Maio and Italian President Sergio Mattarella to discuss issues of shared interest between Italy and the United States.
Blinken will also visit Vatican City, where he is expected to meet with “senior Holy See officials” to discuss religious freedom and climate change.
It has not yet been confirmed whether those meetings will include an audience with Pope Francis.
Although it’s not always the case, high-level officials such as the U.S. Secretary of State are generally granted papal audiences when they visit.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was granted an audience with Pope John Paul II in June 2003, and in 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry was granted an audience with Pope Francis during a visit to Italy for a global meeting on the crisis in the Mediterranean region.
Mike Pompeo, who served as Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, met with Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican in 2019 while on a European tour; however, a year later, in September 2020, Pompeo was denied a sit-down with the pope while he was in Rome for a summit on religious freedom.
Pompeo’s 2020 visit came as the Vatican was conducting negotiations with China to renew a two-year provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops.
Prior to his visit to Italy, Pompeo publicly criticized the Vatican’s China policy in a scathing article published in the conservative magazine First Things, during which he said the pope and the Vatican risked losing their “moral authority” on issues such as religious freedom if the deal was renewed, which he said would mean embracing a regime known for its human rights abuses.
If a meeting between Pope Francis and Blinken does take place, it would be the first high-level meeting between U.S. and Holy See officials since President Joe Biden’s election and swearing-in.
A first meeting between Holy See and U.S. officials in the Biden administration is highly anticipated, as it is believed the two share several key priorities, including immigration and the climate – issues which caused tension between the two while Trump was still in office.
After visiting Rome and the Vatican, Blinken will travel to Bari and Matera, where he will participate in a G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting “to reinforce the U.S. commitment to multilateralism” and discuss issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and COVID recovery with global partners, with an emphasis on Africa.
While in Berlin, Blinken will attend the Second Berlin Conference on Libya to support the country’s elections, scheduled for December, and the withdrawal of foreign forces.
He will also meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and top Libyan officials to discuss issues of mutual interest. His meeting with Maas is expected to focus on the fight against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, with the aim of exploring ways to enhance Holocaust education.
In Paris June 25, Blinken will meet with President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss issues such as global security and the pandemic recovery. He will also meet with OECD Secretary General Mathias Cormann to discuss issues of economic interest such as international taxation, as well as the U.S. chairmanship of the 60th anniversary Ministerial Council Meeting in October.
Blinken, who is Jewish, is married to a Catholic. He and his wife Evan Ryan – who holds degrees from Georgetown University and Boston College – were married in a bi-denominational ceremony at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., which was officiated by a rabbi and a priest.
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