Wednesday 13 December 2017

Trump wants to meet Pope on G7 trip to Italy

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by US President Donald Trump prior to talks at the White House Picture: Reuters
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by US President Donald Trump prior to talks at the White House Picture: Reuters

Nick Squries

Donald Trump wants to meet Pope Francis when he visits Italy later this year, despite the two exchanging harsh words over the US president's plan for a wall along the border with Mexico.

Mr Trump will attend the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, in May, a trip that would give him the opportunity to tack on a visit to Rome to see the Latin American pontiff.

A Vatican insider said that the Holy See was awaiting confirmation that Mr Trump would come to Rome.

The White House confirmed earlier this month that Mr Trump would attend the G7 summit, in what would be his first visit to Europe as president.

The meeting between the Pope and Mr Trump could prove to be tense. The Pope's overarching concern for migrants and refugees has put him sharply at odds with the Republican president, particularly in the wake of his attempted ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the US and his suspension of America's refugee programme.

Months before Mr Trump's election, Pope Francis criticised the plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, accusing Mr Trump of not being a Christian. "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian," the pontiff said.

Mr Trump responded furiously, saying the criticism was "disgraceful". He said: "I'm a very good Christian. For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful."

Despite the very public disagreement, Steve Bannon, Mr Trump's chief strategist, is keen for a meeting to take place.

Thomas Williams, a former priest who is the Rome correspondent for the right-wing website Breitbart News, which was headed by Mr Bannon, said a meeting was highly likely.

Since Mr Bannon became Mr Trump's chief strategist, Mr Williams (54) has been thrust into an unofficial role as liaison between the Vatican and Washington - the Trump administration has still not appointed an ambassador to the Holy See. Mr Williams was forced to leave the priesthood after it emerged that he had broken his vows of celibacy by secretly fathering a child with the daughter of a former US ambassador to the Vatican.

"I know the White House is investigating the possibility and would like to set it up," he said. "The Pope knows he will have to deal with Mr Trump eventually. They don't see eye to eye, it's true, but they both see it as important to have an open channel of communications. It behooves them both to forge a decent relationship. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if there is tension."

Mr Bannon has expressed alarm and concern over the Pope's pro-refugee stance and his criticism of capitalism and the free market economy.

"Steve sees the Pope's support for mass migration as naïve, particularly migration from where there is a danger of Islamic radicalism," said Mr Williams, who worked as a theological consultant on Mel Gibson's film 'The Passion of the Christ', which was shot in Italy.

But for Mr Trump to travel to Italy and not seek an audience with the Pope would be odd. "The Pope is an important world figure and I think it would be seen as a real snub if the president didn't reach out," Mr Williams said.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, was visiting the White House for meetings with Mr Trump yesterday, making him the third world leader to visit the new president. The two greeted each other warmly ahead of an Oval Office meeting.

Mr Trump spent the weekend in Florida with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, playing golf and holding meetings. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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