No Fireworks: Pope and Trump Meet in Quiet Diplomacy

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and President Trump discussed terrorism and the radicalization of young people in a meeting Wednesday in which two global leaders with starkly different world views sought to bridge the chasm between them with a handshake, a private audience, and a mutual pledge to work for peace.

In a larger meeting with US and Vatican officials, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, urged Trump not to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

The pope, by turns dour and smiling, welcomed a more effusive president to the seat of a religion that claims more than 70 million followers in the United States. The two stuck mainly to protocol, avoiding a public reprise of the barbs they aimed at each other during Trump’s presidential campaign or the pope’s thinly veiled critiques of Trump as a symbol of a dangerously reinvigorated nationalism.


But there appeared to be a message in the gifts the pope gave to his guest. They included a copy of his influential essay on the importance of saving the environment, a rebuke to the climate change skepticism espoused by Trump. Francis also presented him with a medallion engraved with the image of an olive tree — “a symbol of peace,” he explained.

“We can use peace,” Trump said.

Francis replied, “It is with all hope that you may become an olive tree to make peace.”

As he bade the pope farewell, Trump told him, “I won’t forget what you said.”

There was a sense in the Vatican that Trump was easier to talk to than his tough language on the campaign trail and sharp words toward Francis had led them to believe. “Trump’s bark is worse than his bite,” said a senior Vatican official who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the meeting.


For Trump, who came here after stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, the visit to the Vatican capped a tour of the ancestral homes of three of the world’s great monotheistic religions. For Francis, who made his own landmark visit to Egypt last month, it was a chance to welcome a second US leader, after President Barack Obama paid his respects in 2014.

Unlike that meeting, few expected a meeting of the minds. Francis and Trump have diametrically opposed views on issues as varied as immigration, climate change, and arms sales. Although both appeared determined not to let politics spoil their encounter, their fraught personal history and divergent personal styles made for a loaded backdrop.

After posing for a picture — “protocol,” the pope murmured — Trump took a seat across a wooden desk from Francis. Vatican officials shooed reporters out of the room and the two men met for half an hour.

Speaking to reporters later, Trump described the session as “fantastic.” Later, on Twitter, he wrote, “I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.”

The Vatican said in a prepared statement that the two discussed the Middle East and “the protection of Christian communities,” as well as “the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience,” and the Catholic Church’s aid work on behalf of immigrants.

Immigration has been a fault line between history’s first South American pope and a president who came to power promising to build a wall to keep Mexican migrants out of the United States. But people close to the pope said in the days leading up to the meeting that he would not reprimand Trump, but seek to impart his values and build a dialogue that could cause a reconsideration of policies by Trump, if not a conversion.