A lone American flag hung above the entryway to Pope Francis’ apostolic palace in Vatican City on Wednesday as U.S. President Donald Trump arrived for the third leg of his tour of the world’s great religions.
Trump met Pope Francis on the fifth day of his first foreign presidential trip, after visiting the cradles of Islam and Judaism.
‘It’s such an honor,’ he said as he shook the Pontiff’s hand and posed for photos in the Sala del Tronetto, the second-floor ‘little throne room.’
‘Thank you very much. This is such a great honor,’ Trump was later heard saying as he and Francis sat across a desk from each other to begin their talks in the Pontiff’s private study.
Francis said nothing.
U.S. President Donald Trump has at long last met Pope Francis for a private audience at the Vatican
First lady Melania Trump got a greeting Wednesday from prefect of the papal household Georg Gaenswein; she wore all black with a conservative lace veil
The president’s arrival was a pomp-and-circumstance affair.
Stepping out of his armored SUV, known in the U.S. as ‘The Beast,’ he joined first lady Melania Trump entering the palace as a rank of Swiss Guards stood at attention.
‘It’s an honor and a great pleasure to receive you here in the Pope’s palace,’ prefect of the papal household Georg Gaenswein told the president as a phalanx of cameras captured the historic moment in the San Damaso courtyard.
‘Thank you so much,’ Trump replied.
Mrs. Trump was dressed in black and wearing a black lace veil over her hair, and got her own handshake from Gaenswein.
Ivanka Trump, too, wore a tulle veil. Her husband Jared Kushner joined the entourage along with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Trump walked a receiving line of 15 officials of the Gentlemen of His Holiness, an honor guard of nobility, stopping to make eye contact and shake hands each time.
The president’s armored SUV, known as ‘The Beast,’ motored past a rank of Swiss Guard in the San Damaso courtyard
The president’s quick in-and-out Vatican City visit completes his global monotheism hat trick as the unconventional Pontiff and the even more unpredictable president talk turkey.
The two men went toe-to-toe during the 2016 campaign season after Francis questioned candidate Trump’s religious convictions, and the future president fired back an un-Christian putdown.
They were all smiles, however, as photographers and reporters chronicled every word, gesture and reaction.
First encounter: Trump’s meeting with the blunt-spoken leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics comes after their very public criticism of each other last year
On the ground: Trump arrived in Italy Tuesday with First Lady Melania Trump and was given a ceremonial welcome by Italian authorities
Vatican greeting: Senior clergy from the Vatican were on the tarmac in Rome to greet the president on Tuesday
Only when they disappear into a Vatican inner sanctum – alone, save for a translator – will the rubber meet the strada.
Trump’s Saudi stay was focused on galvanizing persuadable Muslim-majority nations around a common mission of stamping out the violent jihadism that persistently threatens to tar and feather their religion.
His closely watched appearances in Jerusalem and Bethlehem were calculated to showcase Trump’s closeness with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and his less Republican-like respect for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas – as bookended overture to a coming peace proposal.
But White House officials have been uncharacteristically mum about the president’s goals for his meeting with the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
‘He was invited by the Pope, and he’s honored to go and meet the Pope. It’s somebody he has a lot of respect for,’ a senior administration official told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.
The only hint at an agenda came when the official hopefully lumped Catholicism into an ecumenical anti-terror klatch – signaling that Trump may angle for Pope Francis to endorse his hard-line condemnation of suicide bombers.
‘When you put it all together, you’re really showing that this problem of radical extremism is one of the great problems of our time,’ the official said.
‘By putting everybody together you can really build a coalition and show that it’s not a Muslim problem, it’s not a Jewish problem, it’s not a Catholic problem, it’s not a Christian problem. It really is a world problem.’
In Israel on Tuesday, Trump denounced British Libyan terrorist Salman Abedi, who killed 22 people at a rock concert in Manchester, UK, as an ‘evil loser.’
‘I will call them from now on ‘losers’ because that’s what they are. And we’ll have more of them. But they’re losers, just remember that,’ he said, standing alongside Abbas at his West Bank presidential palace.
Francis was far more measured, not describing the attack as terrorism, nor noting that ISIS immediately claimed credit for the carnage.
‘His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the barbaric attack in Manchester,’ a telegram sent by the Vatican secretary of state read, ‘and he expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence.’
The Pontiff hasn’t shied away from being more forceful in the past, and Trump has personally felt the sting of his verbal lash.
‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,’ Francis said then. The pontiff has been a vocal advocate for aiding refugees, particularly those fleeing the violence in Syria, deeming it both a ‘moral imperative’ and ‘Christian duty’ to help.
High security: The Vatican is surrounded by soldiers and paramilitary police for the meeting of the leaders of the world’s Catholics and its only superpower
Armed guard: Italian troops have also been deployed around the Vatican. The city state is guarded internally by the Swiss Guard
Tension: The Manchester concert attack has jangled nerves across the world and in Vatican City a bomb disposal officer inspected a suspect package as the state prepared for Trump’s arrival
Trump has never been one to let an insult, perceived or real, go by without a response, and he made no exception for the world’s best-known religious leader. He called Francis ‘disgraceful’ for doubting his faith.
In February 2016 aboard a flight home from Juarez, Mexico, the Pope pointedly criticized the then-White House hopeful’s improbable-sounding pledge to wall off the U.S. from its southern neighbor.
‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel,’ the Pope said then.
One focus of his trip had been a high-profile Mass celebrated on the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that enraged Trump.
‘I think the Pope is a very political person,’ he told a Fox Business Channel interviewer. ‘I think he doesn’t understand the problems our country has.’
A week later, Trump sputtered out a response on Facebook to the Jesuit pope’s upbraiding that questioned his faith.
At a point in time when he was emphasizing his border-wall plan’s potential to stop Islamic terrorists from coming to America, the bombastic billionaire let it all hang out.
‘If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened,’ he wrote.
And he claimed Mexican politicians had romanced Francis during his trip with only ‘one side of the story,’ saying that ‘he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States.’
‘For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,’ Trump added in a dramatic hammer-blow.
If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened.
Trump last year during dispute with Pope Francis
‘I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.’
After a lengthy cooling-off period, Francis has adopted a wait-and-see attitude to his meeting with America’s most famous Presbyterian.
Asked on May 13 whether he plans to toughen – or soften – his positions on global warming or immigration when he sits down with Trump, he insisted that he wasn’t about to get caught up in political calculation.’
‘We’ll talk, each of us will say what he thinks. Each of us will listen to the other,’ Francis said during a May 13 flight from Portugal to Rome.
‘I never make a judgment on a person without listening to them. I believe that I shouldn’t do this.’
‘In our talk, things will come out, I will say what I think, he will say what he thinks,’ Francis said.
Trump will fly to Brussels after his Vatican visit, attending a NATO summit on Thursday. From there he heads back to Italy – further south, on the island of Sicily – for a G7 meeting.
In addition to his audience with the Pope, the president will have brief bilateral talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
His wife Melania will visit a Vatican-owned children’s hospital later on Wednesday.
Ivanka will meet victims of human trafficking and host a roundtable with members of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a social justice-oriented anti-poverty group affiliated with the Catholic Church.