A lone American flag hung above the entryway to Pope Francis’ apostolic palace in Vatican City on Wednesday as United States President Donald Trump arrived for the third leg of his tour of the world’s great religions.
Trump met Pope Francis on the fifth day of his first foreign presidential trip, after visiting the cradles of Islam and Judaism.
While their discussion will remain private, the president had a brief message for Francis as he left: ‘I won’t forget what you said.’
‘It’s such an honor,’ he said as he shook the Pontiff’s hand and posed for photos in the Sala del Tronetto, the second-floor ‘little throne room.’
‘Thank you very much. This is such a great honor,’ Trump was later heard saying as he and Francis sat across a desk from each other to begin their talks in his private study.
The Pope presented Trump with a medal with a picture of an olive tree and told him: ‘It is my desire that you become an olive tree to construct peace.’ Trump replied: ‘We could use peace,’
He tweeted on his way to the airport: ‘Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.’
The famously blunt-spoken Francis said nothing.
After they emerged from their talks, Francis was grinning from ear to ear as he met other members of the first family.
‘What do you give him to eat?’ he asked Melania Trump in Italian, referring to the president’s hulking size. ‘Potica?’
‘Potica!’ a delighted Melania responded, laughing. Potica is a Slovenian nut-roll dessert.
The Pope blessed a rosary in her hand before greeting Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other U.S. officials.
Melania followed the Papal meeting with a visit to a Vatican-owned children’s hospital. She told Francis: ‘I’m glad to visit the hospital – for the “bambinos”.’
Ivanka’s itinerary included meeting victims of human trafficking and host a roundtable with members of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a social justice-oriented anti-poverty group affiliated with the Catholic Church.
The Vatican praised Trump in a statement, saying that he and Francis spoke about their ‘joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience.’
But in a veiled slap at Trump’s immigration policy, the Vatican added that the Pope would seek ‘serene collaboration’ on ‘healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.’
‘We had a fantastic meeting,’ Trump told reporters afterward. ‘He is something. It was an honor to be with the Pope.’
The president ignored a question about whether he and the Pontiff had discussed global warming.
The Trumps brought two gifts for the Pope, including a case of first-edition books by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
‘I think you will enjoy them,’ he said.
The president also gave him a bronze sculpture by Florida artist Geoffrey Smith, titled ‘Rising Above,’ in the shape of a flowering lotus.
Francis reciprocated with a large medal crafted by a Roman artist – an image of an olive tree, a symbol of peace.
‘It is my desire that you become an olive tree to construct peace,’ he said.
‘We can use peace,’ Trump replied.
‘I signed it personally for you,’ Francis told him.
‘Ooh,’ Trump said. ‘That’s so beautiful.’
The president also promised to read copies of three Papal encyclicals that Francis gave him – one of which is his ‘Laudato si,’ a treatise about preserving the environment.
The other two concern family and the Gospels.
How Pope Francis threw out traditional rules in favour of ‘relaxed’ dress code
US First Lady Melania Trump and her step-daughter Ivanka opted to wear black dresses and veils when they met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday.
While the First Lady’s spokeswoman said their decision was based on Vatican protocol, the famously laid-back Pope Francis initiated a ‘relaxed’ approach to dress codes when he became Pope in 2013.
Traditionally, women granted a private audience with the Pope had a strict dress code to adhere to.
It was compulsory for women to wear black long dresses that fell below the knees. They were required to wear a matching black hat, veil or other head covering, as well as gloves.
Exceptions were made for Catholic queens and princesses who could adhere to the ‘privilège du blanc’ or ‘privilege of the white’ rule.
Catholic women worldwide typically wore head coverings to church until the 1950s given the Virgin Mary wore a veil as a symbol of humility.
The historically strict rules were essentially thrown out by Pope Francis when he was elected in 2013.
Pope Francis adopted a ‘no dress code’ policy for private audiences. However, women are encouraged to still dress modestly when meeting with the Pope and are asked to cover their shoulders.
Queen Elizabeth wore the traditional black when she met with four previous Popes. Yet when she met Pope Francis for the first time in 2014, the Queen opted for a bright lilac ensemble.
The Duchess of Cornwall also broke with tradition when she wore gold to meet Pope Francis for the first time in April this year.
Camilla wore her head uncovered and donned a champagne silk dress and coat by Anna Valentine, one of her favorite designers. In contrast, Camilla wore a black dress and veil when meeting with Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
Queen Letizia of Spain chose not to cover her head when she met with Pope Francis in 2014. She did however wear white, which is standard protocol for a Catholic queen making a papal visit.
The president’s arrival was a pomp-and-circumstance affair.
Stepping out of an armored SUV – – the Beast is too wide for some of the streets close to the Vatican – he joined first lady Melania Trump entering the palace as a rank of Swiss Guards stood at attention.
‘It’s an honor and a great pleasure to receive you here in the Pope’s palace,’ prefect of the papal household Georg Gaenswein told the president as a phalanx of cameras captured the historic moment in the San Damaso courtyard.
‘Thank you so much,’ Trump replied.
Mrs. Trump was dressed in black and wearing a black lace veil over her hair, and got her own handshake from Gaenswein.
Ivanka Trump, too, wore a tulle veil. Her husband Jared Kushner joined the entourage along with Tillerson.
The veil, or mantilla, is traditionally worn by women as a sign of respect when meeting the Pope. Trump senior aide Hope Hicks wore one as well.
Neither woman, however, wore a head scarf in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, despite the local custom of Muslim women wearing hijabs in public.
Catholic women worldwide typically wore mantillas to church until the 1960s.
Following a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, the president went to the Quirinale Palace for a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
He entered the palace’s courtyard to find an honor guard of 30 Italian military officers in full dress uniforms, complete with medals pinned to their chests.
With Melania and Ivanka at their own meetings, policy adviser Stephen Miller took a seat at a long conference table alongside Tillerson.
On Trump’s other side sat Kushner and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Following a second political meeting, with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the president headed back to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport with a motorcade of 50 vehicles.
In the Vatican courtyard on Wednesday, Trump walked a receiving line of 15 officials of the Gentlemen of His Holiness, an honor guard of nobility, stopping to make eye contact and shake hands each time.
As Trump and Francis talked, Melania, Ivanka and Jared sat in an anteroom, speaking with Gentlemen of His Holiness members and Gaenswein.
The president’s quick in-and-out Rome visit completes his global monotheism hat trick as the unconventional Pontiff and the even more unpredictable president talked turkey.
The two men went toe-to-toe during the 2016 campaign season after Francis questioned candidate Trump’s religious convictions, and the future president fired back an un-Christian putdown.
They were all smiles, however, as photographers and reporters chronicled every word, gesture and reaction.
Only when they disappeared into a Vatican inner sanctum – alone, save for a translator – did the rubber meet the strada.
Trump’s Saudi stay was focused on galvanizing persuadable Muslim-majority nations around a common mission of stamping out the violent jihadism that persistently threatens to tar and feather their religion.
His closely watched appearances in Jerusalem and Bethlehem were calculated to showcase Trump’s closeness with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and his less Republican-like respect for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas – as bookended overture to a coming peace proposal.
But White House officials had been uncharacteristically mum about the president’s goals for his meeting with the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
‘He was invited by the Pope, and he’s honored to go and meet the Pope. It’s somebody he has a lot of respect for,’ a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday aboard Air Force One.
The only hint at an agenda came when the official hopefully lumped Catholicism into an ecumenical anti-terror klatch – signaling that Trump may angle for Pope Francis to endorse his hard-line condemnation of suicide bombers.
‘When you put it all together, you’re really showing that this problem of radical extremism is one of the great problems of our time,’ the official said.
‘By putting everybody together you can really build a coalition and show that it’s not a Muslim problem, it’s not a Jewish problem, it’s not a Catholic problem, it’s not a Christian problem. It really is a world problem.’
In Israel on Tuesday, Trump denounced British Libyan terrorist Salman Abedi, who killed 22 people at a rock concert in Manchester, UK, as an ‘evil loser.’
‘I will call them from now on ‘losers’ because that’s what they are. And we’ll have more of them. But they’re losers, just remember that,’ he said, standing alongside Abbas at his West Bank presidential palace.
Francis was far more measured, not describing the attack as terrorism, nor noting that ISIS immediately claimed credit for the carnage.
‘His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the barbaric attack in Manchester,’ a telegram sent by the Vatican secretary of state read, ‘and he expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence.’
The Pontiff hasn’t shied away from being more forceful in the past, and Trump has personally felt the sting of his verbal lash.
‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,’ Francis said then. The pontiff has been a vocal advocate for aiding refugees, particularly those fleeing the violence in Syria, deeming it both a ‘moral imperative’ and ‘Christian duty’ to help.
In February 2016 aboard a flight home from Juarez, Mexico, the Pope pointedly criticized the then-White House hopeful’s improbable-sounding pledge to wall off the U.S. from its southern neighbor.
‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel,’ the Pope said then.
One focus of that trip had been a high-profile Mass celebrated on the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that enraged Trump.
‘I think the Pope is a very political person,’ he told a Fox Business Channel interviewer. ‘I think he doesn’t understand the problems our country has.’
A week later, Trump sputtered out a response on Facebook to the Jesuit pope’s upbraiding that questioned his faith.
At a point in time when he was emphasizing his border-wall plan’s potential to stop Islamic terrorists from coming to America, the bombastic billionaire let it all hang out.
‘If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened,’ he wrote.
And he claimed Mexican politicians had romanced Francis during his trip with only ‘one side of the story,’ saying that ‘he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States.’
‘For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,’ Trump added in a dramatic hammer-blow.
‘I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.’
After a lengthy cooling-off period, Francis has adopted a wait-and-see attitude to his meeting with America’s most famous Presbyterian.
Asked on May 13 whether he plans to toughen – or soften – his positions on global warming or immigration when he sits down with Trump, he insisted that he wasn’t about to get caught up in political calculation.’
‘We’ll talk, each of us will say what he thinks. Each of us will listen to the other,’ Francis said during a May 13 flight from Portugal to Rome.
‘I never make a judgment on a person without listening to them. I believe that I shouldn’t do this.’
‘In our talk, things will come out, I will say what I think, he will say what he thinks,’ Francis said.
Trump will fly to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon to attend a NATO summit on Thursday. From there he heads back to Italy – further south, on the island of Sicily – for a G7 meeting.
Credit: Daily Mail