The meeting comes after months of talking and tweeting past each other
Pope says he'll look for areas of agreement with Trump
After meeting with Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and visiting sacred sites in Jerusalem, President Donald Trump’s tour of world religions concluded Wednesday at the Vatican, the Catholic Church’s holy headquarters.
There, at the Apostolic Palace, Trump met with Pope Francis – finally.
It’s a meeting millions had been waiting for, an encounter between two of the world’s most intriguing and complex characters: The holy man in white who preaches good news to the poor and the brash businessman in the dark suit who embodies American extravagance.
A boxing promoter might have been tempted to call it the “Sistine Showdown” or “Rumble in Rome.” Churchmen, alas, chose more sober sobriquets.
“It will be a meeting without ‘walls,’” the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a close associate of the Pope, said a few days before the President’s visit.
Walls, of course, were the subject of their famous feud.
Shortly after celebrating a large outdoor Mass at the Mexican border last year, Francis said that people who think only of building barriers instead of bridges are “not Christian.” Trump dismissed the comments as “disgraceful” and called the Pope a pawn of the Mexican government.
It was catnip to a culture that feasts on conflict: A politician and Pope sparring in the middle of a heated presidential election. But neither man seemed eager to continue the clash. The Vatican said Francis’ comments were “not a personal attack,” and Trump said he “doesn’t like fighting with the Pope.”
Still, the Pope continued to condemn Trump-like political rhetoric, even if he never named Trump himself. The day before the presidential election, he warned Christians not to be tempted by “the false security of physical or social walls.”
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “all walls fall. All of them. Do not be fooled.”
After the election, several of Francis’ closest American allies picked up the Pope’s banner, sounding ready to lead an anti-Trump resistance.
“What keeps despots, dictators awake at night, what topples evil empires is the little person who goes into the square in the middle of the town in the dark of the night and scrawls on the wall, ‘No,’” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said earlier this month at a rally to support a Mexican immigrant threatened with deportation.
“And I want to say to you, we are the ‘No’ that God scrawls on the wall.”
Bishop Daniel Flores said his flock in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, is anxious about the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the highest levels of government. They wanted the Pope to say something about it to Trump.
“People here see the Pope as someone who defends the integrity of immigrants’ identity,” Flores said. “They are hoping, when he meets the President, that there may be some progress in understanding, especially in halting efforts to dehumanize the immigrant population.”
Still, most experts said before the meeting they didn’t expect Francis to take Trump to the woodshed – or drag him to the confessional booth.
At a recent news conference, the Pope said he wouldn’t judge Trump before their meeting or seek to convert him on political issues. Instead, he’d look for areas of agreement.
“Always there are doors that are not closed. Look for the doors that are at least a little bit open, enter and talk about common things and go on. Step by step.”