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Story highlights

The pontiff blessed first lady Melania Trump's rosary at the Vatican

She is the first Catholic first lady in the White House since Jacqueline Kennedy

(CNN) —  

It was a small moment, buried in the news of President Trump’s brief audience yesterday at the Vatican with the Pope: the pontiff blessed first lady Melania Trump’s rosary.

After shaking his hand and exchanging pleasantries, the first lady held her rosary beads in her left hand, extended to Pope Francis, who then blessed them, bending to make the sign of the cross, placing his right hand over hers. The entire exchange took less than 10 seconds, but for a Catholic, a blessing of beads by the Pope is a pinnacle of holy ceremony.

PHOTO: Vatican TV

That Trump even had rosary beads was news – practicing Catholics often use the beads for prayers, moving fingers along each bead to keep track of how many times each is said, and repeated. Although Trump was raised in Slovenia, a country whose religious population is predominantly Catholic, she married Donald Trump, a Presbyterian, in 2005 at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal church in Palm Beach, Florida, and has celebrated Easter services there as recently as this year. Her 11-year-old son, Barron, who was baptized at the same church, will attend St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, in the fall.

However, the first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, today confirmed to CNN that Trump is indeed Catholic.

Shortly after her visit with Pope Francis, Trump tweeted a photo, saying she was “humbled by the honor” to have visited with the pontiff.

There has been little doubt about the veracity of Trump’s faith; in February, in her first public remarks as first lady, she opened her introduction to the president at a Florida rally by unexpectedly saying, “Let us pray,” to the crowd, and then reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

US President Donald Trump listens as his wife, First Lady Melania Trump recites the Lord's Prayer during a rally in Melbourne, Florida on February 18, 2017.
PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump listens as his wife, First Lady Melania Trump recites the Lord's Prayer during a rally in Melbourne, Florida on February 18, 2017.

When Donald Trump took the podium, he too seemed surprised by his wife’s recitation.

“I didn’t know that Melania was going to be saying the Lord’s Prayer, but I thought that was beautiful, thank you.”

Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, would not comment as to whether the first couple would raise their son in the Catholic faith, nor did she answer a request for specifics about Melania Trump’s religious habits, including whether she regularly attends Mass.

However, this week’s news of Mrs. Trump’s Catholicism means she is the first Catholic first lady in the White House since Jacqueline Kennedy.

“When the Kennedys visited Pope John XXIII in 1962, more than 15,000 people cheered Jackie when she entered Vatican City,” says Kate Andersen Brower, an historian and author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies. “Like Melania did yesterday, Jackie also wore a black dress and a black lace mantilla on her head.”

The first lady made headlines yesterday for donning the outfit requested of women who have an audience with the pope: long sleeves, black formal wear, and a veil to cover their head. The two shared some light banter, with the pope even teasing Mrs. Trump about what sort of treats she’s been feeding her husband, suggesting potizza, a Slovenian pastry.

Pope Francis (R) walks along with US President Donald Trump (C) and US First Lady Melania Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017.
PHOTO: ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis (R) walks along with US President Donald Trump (C) and US First Lady Melania Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017.

Andersen Brower pointed out that the interaction in some ways mirrored Kennedy’s meeting with the religious leader.

“(Jackie) and the Pope spoke French to each other, and the Pope, who was worried about how to address her, said, “Ah, Jacqueline!” when they met,” Andersen Brower said. “In that way, there’s another parallel between Jackie’s meeting with the pope 55 years ago and Melania’s exchange with this Pope about her husband’s eating habits, in that both women brought out the lighter side to what is a very heavy, tradition-filled meeting.”

In her few public appearances, and even fewer public speaking engagements, Mrs. Trump has often referenced prayer and blessings.

“May God bless you,” she said at the close of her remarks at the White House Easter Egg Roll in April.