After visits with the Muslims and Jews, President Donald Trump took on perhaps his toughest audience yet: the Roman Catholics.
Trump and Pope Francis appeared to put aside their differences Wednesday during their meeting at the Vatican, the third leg of a five-country overseas trip that had the president traveling to Brussels later in the afternoon.
The meeting with the pope had the potential for being awkward: The two world leaders couldn’t be more different on several issues. They had feuded publicly over Trump’s immigration policy during the campaign.
Before the visit, the pope had promised to seek common ground with Trump, and he appeared to greet the president cautiously Wednesday, though he warmed as the meeting continued and joked about what Trump ate.
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Their discussion was private, but after their meeting Francis handed Trump his book on the importance of protecting the environment. The book holds man largely responsible for climate change.
“I won’t forget what you said,” Trump told the pope.
Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate accord and cancel payments to the United Nation’s climate change programs, while the pope wrote a 181-page encyclical on protecting the Earth, “Laudato Si” (“Praise Be”).
Trump called for building a massive wall along the Mexican border and signed a temporary suspension on the entry of refugees. The pope, the son of an Italian family who migrated to Argentina, has repeatedly called for compassion to be shown to refugees and migrants.
During the presidential campaign, Francis was critical of Trump’s plans to build a wall.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel,” the pope said after a visit to Mexico.
Trump called the pope “disgraceful” for doubting his faith.
What do you give him to eat, potizza?
Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson couldn’t say whether Trump had discussed climate change with the pope. But Tillerson said the subject did come up in a discussion with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who pressed the administration not to abandon the Paris accord. Tillerson said the cardinal was told the administration was still studying the issues and had not made a decision.
“We had a good exchange on the difficulty of addressing climate change . . . and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy,” Tillerson said. “And that’s a difficult balancing act.”
Trump told the pope it was “a very great honor” to be at the Vatican. At one point, Francis kidded with the first couple. While shaking Melania Trump’s hand, he asked what she fed the president. Potizza, he asked?
“Potizza,” she said, referring to a Slovenian pastry.
Trump was also accompanied by his daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and personal assistant Keith Schiller.
The pope handed out tokens, in white boxes, to each member of the delegation. He had an exchange with Ivanka Trump and Kushner, who smiled and laughed.
I won’t forget what you said.
President Donald Trump
Trump gave the pope an edition of the works of U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., including “Why We Can’t Wait” and “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”
“This is a gift for you,” Trump told the pope. “These are books from Martin Luther King. I think you will enjoy them.”
Francis gave Trump what he said was a medal by a Roman artist. According to reporters who witnessed the exchange, Francis said the medal depicted an olive as a symbol of peace.
“We can use peace,” Trump said.
Francis also gave Trump several books, including one that he said he gave to all Catholics that addresses the family, the Gospel and the “care of our common home, the environment.”
“Well, I’ll be reading them,” Trump said.