Trump Meets Pope Francis At The Vatican

May 24, 2017
Originally published on May 24, 2017 7:17 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump has one thing in common with Pope Francis. Each man represented a big change in direction when he was chosen for office. Then again, their past interactions about immigrants, among other things, emphasized how different their directions sometimes are. Now they have met face to face at the Vatican, and NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is there.

Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What'd it all look like as the president arrived?

POGGIOLI: Well, the president and his entourage were escorting in a very slow procession by an honor guard of Vatican nobles through several marble-lined grand rooms of the Apostolic Palace. Trump and the first lady appeared visibly impressed by the frescoed walls and ceiling, Swiss guards in their colorful Renaissance uniforms who were standing guard as they passed. At one point, the president and first lady were asked to enter a very small elevator. And someone quipped, it's not like Trump Tower in New York.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

POGGIOLI: And...

INSKEEP: Go on. Go on.

POGGIOLI: And when they arrived at the papal library, Pope Francis was there to greet them. The president was beaming, but the pope had a somber expression. Trump said, a very great honor, but Francis did not reply. There was none of the usual chitchat that occurs usually while photographers are snapping away. It seemed the pope did not want to speak while the media was present. But then, when the meeting ended a half hour later - which is the normal length for these meetings - and the rest of the entourage entered the library, Francis appeared much more relaxed, and he smiled a lot, especially at the first lady.

INSKEEP: And of course we have to read a little bit or try to read what we can into the expressions in what they say or don't say. We don't want to overread it, but these are two leaders who've had big differences. What have their main differences been?

POGGIOLI: Well, their first, let's say, exchange at a distance came early in 2016 during the campaign. After visiting Mexico, where he celebrated mass right at the border with the United States, Francis was asked by reporters what he thought about candidate Trump's proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. You know, it's well-known Francis is an advocate of refugees and migrants. And without mentioning Trump by name, he said building walls instead of bridges is not Christian. This is not the gospel. Donald Trump reacted angrily, saying it was disgraceful for a religious leader to question another person's faith.

INSKEEP: Is that the only thing they disagree on?

POGGIOLI: Oh, no, not at all. They don't share the same views on economic systems. Francis, a South American, is a strong critic of what he sees as the North American model of free market capitalism. He's also strongly opposed to arms trading, and Trump just came back from Saudia Arabia where he signed a big billion-dollar - many billion-dollar deal with Saudi Arabia for arms. They don't agree on a lot of things. Globalization - they both see it harmful, but the pope says the harm is done mostly to the developing world while Trump says it's mostly to the United States.

And perhaps the issue, of course, that they're most at odds on is climate change. In fact, today, at the end of their encounter, Francis gave the president his writings, including his very powerful encyclical on climate change, a topic on which Trump has a very different opinion. The pope described it as on the care of our common home. The president replied - well, I'll be reading it.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, we'll see if he does and if he comments on what is there. Just in a couple of seconds - is there some substantive outcome of this meeting along with the symbolism?

POGGIOLI: Well, we know that the pope said a few weeks ago that he had no intention to change the president. He said proselytizing is not my style, not in religion or politics. The fact that it took place at all - it was not originally on Trump's schedule - I think that's probably the most important thing, a meeting between the two men who probably have the loudest megaphones on the world stage. Trump's last words were - thank you, thank you; I won't forget what you said.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.