Following this morning’s first-ever encounter between Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump, a Vatican statement said that the two men focused on concerns they have in common during their half-hour together, including a “joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience.”
Using the standard diplomatic verbiage, the statement referred to the discussion between Trump and Francis as “cordial.”
The Vatican statement, issued shortly before noon Rome time on Wednesday, some three hours after the meeting concluded, also said it’s 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 Vatican communique indicated that Trump and Francis also discussed a variety of international issues.
“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,” it said.
The protection of persecuted Christians was a major point on the campaign trail for Trump, who vowed to make it a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, and it’s also emerged as a major theme for Francis, who repeatedly has referred to a “vast ecumenism of blood” shared by new Christian martyrs from all denominations.
The statement noted that Trump also met with Italian Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the pope’s closest aide, as well as British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, in effect the Vatican’s foreign minister, in keeping with the usual protocol for a visiting head of state.
In advance of the meeting, officials from both the Vatican and the White House emphasized they wanted a friendly encounter, and today’s statement strikes that tone. It avoided any direct mention of past flashpoints between Trump and the pontiff, such as the president’s call for building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border to halt the flow of immigrants or his reported consideration of abandoning the Paris climate change agreement that Francis and his encyclical letter Laudato’ Si helped to inspire.
Francis, did however, find a subtler way of making his ecological case to Trump, presenting him with a copy of Laudato Si’ along with other papal texts.
From Rome, Trump departs on Wednesday for Brussels for a NATO summit before returning to the Italian island of Sicily for a gathering of G7 leaders.
So far, the White House has not issued a statement on the meeting with Francis. Trump is not scheduled for a press briefing while in Rome, though he met both the Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and President Sergio Mattarella.
During his meeting with Gentiloni, Trump called Francis “something” and said he and the pope had a “fantastic meeting.”
In a statement issued later in the day, the White House largely confirmed the Vatican’s version of what had transpired in the meeting, adding one other detail: that the two sides had discussed anti-famine efforts.
“The President also renewed the commitment of the United States to fighting global famine,” a White House read-out of the meeting said. “As he relayed at the Vatican, the United States is proud to announce more than $300 million in anti-famine spending, focused on the crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.”