During Mass at his residence in the Vatican back in February, Pope Francis said Christians had “cheerful faces and hearts full of joy.” But as he stood next to a beaming Donald Trump on Wednesday morning, it looked like the pope had forgotten his own words.
Trump met the pope on the third leg of his first overseas trip as president, a meeting marked by several awkward moments.
The visit came just over a year since the two men had a public spat regarding Trump’s attitude toward climate change and migrants – views that led the Pope to brand the then Republican presidential candidate “not a Christian.” Trump responded by saying it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question a person’s faith. Despite this, the president was full of praise for the pontiff on Wednesday:
According to reporters present when the pair were initially introduced, the pope was not his usual cheery self — and this was obvious from the official photos of the meeting. Many compared the images to those taken when Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama visited the Vatican in 2014.
Trump spoke privately to the pope for 28 minutes, with the length of the meeting limited because his holiness was due at his weekly papal audience at St. Peter’s Square. According to the Holy See, the meeting was “cordial,” as the pair discussed health care, education and immigration, as well as how to best protect Christian refugees. As he left the pope, Trump was overheard to say: “Thank you. I won’t forget what you said.”
After their meeting, Trump introduced the pope to his wife Melania, who was wearing a black lace dress and veil, with the pontiff attempting to make a joke with the first lady. The pope asked (via his translator): ““What do you give him to eat? Potica?” Potica is a dessert from Slovenia that the pope enjoys — but it appears something was lost in translation and the first lady responded: “Pizza? Yes.”
The awkwardness didn’t end there. The pair exchanged gifts, with the president presenting Pope Francis with a large box filled with first-edition books written by Martin Luther King, one of which bears his signature. “This is a gift for you,” Trump said. “I think you will enjoy them. I hope you do.”
In exchange, the pope presented Trump with a medallion that depicted an olive branch as well as some of his latest writings on climate change — the very same topic the pair clashed about last year. In response, Trump said: “Well, I will be reading them.” Observors may wonder if he’ll actually look at Francis’ latest encyclicals on the need to protect the environment, as Trump has repeatedly said he just doesn’t have time to read.