Monday 25 September 2017

'Be an olive tree for peace,' Pope tells Trump at Vatican meeting

Donald Trump and his wife Melania visit the Sistine Chapel. Photo: Getty
Donald Trump and his wife Melania visit the Sistine Chapel. Photo: Getty

Nick Squires Vatican City

A year after he called Pope Francis "disgraceful" for criticising his intention to build a wall along the Mexican border, Donald Trump was all smiles for his first meeting with the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

The US President appeared to be on his best behaviour and keen to bury the hatchet, after the highly public spat with the Latin American pontiff over his plans for a border wall.

A protester in Brussels ahead of Mr Trump’s visit. Photo: Getty
A protester in Brussels ahead of Mr Trump’s visit. Photo: Getty

The Pope had said that anyone intent on building walls rather than bridges was "not Christian", a remark that the then Republican candidate branded "disgraceful".

But that was largely forgotten - or at least ignored - when the President swept up to St Peter's Square in a 50-vehicle motorcade, riding in the heavily-armoured black car nicknamed "The Beast".

The President and his entourage, including his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka, were led down frescoed corridors to the private study which the Pope uses for official occasions.

At the start of the meeting in the Apostolic Palace, the Pope was unsmiling and seemed subdued, staring at the floor during a photo opportunity while Mr Trump beamed widely, describing the audience as "a very great honour".

Melania visits the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital in Vatican City. Photo: Getty
Melania visits the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital in Vatican City. Photo: Getty

But after a half-hour meeting behind closed doors, Francis seemed to have cheered up considerably.

He even made a light-hearted jest, asking Melania Trump "What do you feed him, putizza?" - a reference to a well-known dessert from her native Slovenia.

The quip, made in Spanish, appeared to get lost in translation, with the First Lady apparently thinking that the Pope had said "pizza".

Confused, she replied: "Pizza? Yes."

Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka after meeting victims of trafficking in Rome. Photo: Getty
Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka after meeting victims of trafficking in Rome. Photo: Getty

In a broad statement, the Vatican said the two leaders had "cordial discussions" about international affairs, "with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities."

But there remains much that divides the two men, from their views on capitalism and refugees to climate change and the building of the border wall.

At the end of the meeting, there was an exchange of gifts, as is customary.

The President gave the Pope a boxed set of first-edition books by Martin Luther King.

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with the US president at the Vatican. Photo: Getty
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with the US president at the Vatican. Photo: Getty

In return, the Pope gave him a bronze medallion depicting an olive tree. "It's symbol of peace. It is my desire that you become an olive tree to construct peace," Francis said in Spanish, to which the President replied: "We can use peace."

The Pope also gave him an English translation of Laudato Si, an encyclical he wrote in 2015 on the environment - a pointed gift, given that Mr Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris accord on combating climate change.

Francis explained that the treatise was about "the care of our common home, the environment," to which the President replied: "Well, I'll be reading it."

As the meeting came to a conclusion and Mr Trump turned to leave, he told the Pope: "Thank you, thank you, I won't forget what you said."

Asked afterwards how the meeting went, the President said: "Great. He is something. He is really good. We had a fantastic meeting."

In a subsequent tweet, he wrote: "Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world."

He then visited the Sistine Chapel before leaving the Vatican for meetings with Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister, and Sergio Mattarella, the president.

Melania Trump visited a children's hospital, while Ivanka Trump went to a Catholic charity headquarters to meet women who had been trafficked as sex workers.

The president then flew to Brussels or a Nato meeting, from where he will travel to the cliff-top resort town of Taormina in eastern Sicily for the Group of Seven summit tomorrow and Saturday. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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