Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Welcome" – For Pope and Trump, The Main Event

(Updated 12pm ET with White House readout.)
After weeks of anticipation – and a rhetorical flare from the host's side – just before 8.30 this morning President Trump arrived at the Apostolic Palace for his reception by the Pope.

On reaching the Private Library in the Papal Apartment, the duo spent a half-hour in one-on-one talks behind closed doors. In what's become a sign of welcome under Francis for visiting heads of state, the American flag was again flown over the San Damaso courtyard, where the POTUS' 70-car motorcade rolled up.

While Papa Bergoglio appeared unusually somber or apprehensive as he emerged to welcome the beaming President upon his arrival, Francis returned to his smiling, animated form after the private discussion, seeming especially charmed by First Lady Melania Trump. Meanwhile, in a notable break from the standard practice for bilateral meetings, the US side didn't bring its own translator, leaving Msgr Mark Miles – the Gibraltar-born chief of the English desk in the Secretariat of State – as the sole interpreter for both parties.

Keeping the custom of his predecessors for every meeting with a major political leader, the pontiff gave Trump copies of his own principal texts – Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si' and Amoris Laetitia – adding alongside them a signed edition of this year's message for the World Day of Peace (1 January), in which he urged a politics of "nonviolence." Per the White House pool, the President's main gift was a boxed set of the published works of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., who Francis quoted in the Peace Day message and highlighted at length in his 2015 address to a joint meeting of Congress, the first such speech ever given by a Pope.

Here, the Vatican feed of the encounter's public moments before and after the private visit, which wrapped up with the traditional exchange of gifts and greeting of the US delegation:

As with every other diplomatic guest, after the audience itself the US principals – the President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – sat for detailed policy talks with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his British-born "foreign minister," Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

With the Pope zipping off for this morning's general audience, the second meeting reportedly stretched for 50 minutes.

In the one unique aspect of today's summit – at least, beyond the overpowering security presence that comes with this visitor alone – given Trump's first visit to the Vatican, the President, First Lady and their retinue were given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel (right) and St Peter's Basilica, which were closed to the public for the occasion.

While the new administration's domestic turmoil has taken a backseat to the spectacle of Trump's first overseas tour – and the Holy See, as a matter of course, steers clear of a country's internal politics – the US bishops notably minced few words in criticizing yesterday's release of the President's first budget, terming the plan's drastic cuts to social benefits for the poor and vulnerable (while increasing defense spending) as "profoundly troubling" and "a threat to the security of our nation and world."

SVILUPPO (5.50am ET): Just released, the Vatican's readout summarizing the private discussions as Francis and his team saw it....
This morning, Wednesday 24 May 2017, the Honorable Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, was received in Audience by the Holy Father Francis and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency [Archbishop] Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience. It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.

The discussions then enabled an exchange of views on various themes relating to international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.
And in the first US comment on the audience, Trump lauded the moment in one of his trademark tweets:
SVILUPPO 2 (12PM ET): Only several hours after the motorcade pulled away, the White House released the following communiqué on the talks, featuring a marked difference of emphasis from much of the Vatican's summary:
President Donald J. Trump met today with His Holiness Pope Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. This was the President’s first engagement with the Holy See. In their meetings, the President focused on how the United States, the Holy See, and the international community can work together to combat terrorism.

The Pope and the President discussed how religious communities can combat human suffering in crisis regions, such as Syria, Libya, and ISIS-controlled territory. The President affirmed that the United States and the Holy See share many fundamental values and seek to engage globally to promote human rights, combat human suffering, and protect religious freedom.

The President also renewed the commitment of the United States to fighting global famine. As he relayed at the Vatican, the United States is proud to announce more than $300 million in anti-famine spending, focused on the crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Briefing members of the traveling press pool as Air Force One headed toward a NATO summit in Brussels, Tillerson mentioned another issue that came up in the meting with Parolin and Gallagher: climate change – specifically, the Holy See's interest in the US' remaining a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement which committed most of the world's governments to implementing targeted limits on carbon emissions.

While Francis himself played a key behind-the-scenes role in securing the accord – now ratified by nearly 150 nations – the Trump administration has pledged to withdraw from it.