In “cordial discussions” between Pope Francis and President Donald Trump this morning, “satisfaction” was expressed for “good existing bilateral relations” as well as “the joint commitment in favor of life and freedom of worship and conscience.”

In a statement, the Vatican said it is also “hoped that there may be serene collaboration” between the Church and the Trump administration “in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.”

During their half-hour meeting on the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, the two leaders also discussed “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.”  

Areas of convergence such as respect for life and religious freedom were stressed, as well as those issues of divergence such as immigration, although the statement did not refer to the environment, also an area where the Pope and Trump have differed.

Here below is the full text of the statement:

"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 Msgr. 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 favor 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."

Today's much anticipated meeting, which took place in the library of the apostolic palace, began shortly after 8:30am with some nervous smiles and a somewhat serious pontiff, but ended in a relaxed, familiar and warm atmosphere, according to the two reporters who were present.

Both Trump and the Pope have had very public differences over immigration, and to a lesser extent environmental policy, although common ground exists regarding protection of the unborn, religious freedom and striving for peace in the Middle East, aspects that were evident in the Vatican's statement.

“Welcome!” the Pope said on greeting Trump. “Thank you so much. A very great honor,” Trump replied. The Holy Father said he did not speak English very well and called over his translator, Gibraltarian Msgr. Mark Miles, who acted as his interpreter for the meeting. 

Shortly after 9am the doors to the library opened, and the first lady, Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, entered to greet the Pope. They were followed by other members of the president’s 12-member delegation, who included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; H.R. McMaster, national security adviser; and Louis Bono, chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

At the exchange of gifts, the president gave the Pope a box of books from Martin Luther King, commenting: “I think you’ll enjoy them. I hope you do.”

Francis presented Trump with his usual gifts to world leaders: copies of his social encyclical, Laudato Si, his two apostolic exhortations, Amoris Laetitia and Evangelii Gaudium, and a signed copy of his World Day of Peace Message for this year. Trump responded: “Well, I’ll be reading them.”

Also as with other world leaders, the Pope presented a large bronze medallion of an olive tree. “It’s by a Roman artist, of an olive tree, which is a symbol of peace,” the Pope said. “This is one of my great desires, that you can be an olive tree for peace.”

“We can use peace,” Trump replied.

On being introduced to Melania Trump, the Pope asked: “What do you give him [the president] to eat? Potica?” She repeated "potica, yes!," which is a Slovenian treat. 

The first lady had the Pope bless her rosary.

As they departed, Trump said, “Good luck” to the Pope, adding: “Thank you; thank you. I won’t forget what you said.”

He and other members of his delegation then walked to the lower floor of the apostolic palace, where they had a meeting with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.   

While at the Vatican, Trump made a point of greeting six American priests and sisters working in the Secretariat of State and then visited the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. 


Bambino Gesu and Sant'Egidio visits

After visiting the Vatican, Melania Trump called in on the Vatican-run Bambino Gesu pediatric hospital, where she met 15 children of nine different nationalities, spent time praying alone in the hospital chapel, and laid flowers at the feet of a statue of Our Lady. She also visited children in an intensive care unit in the hospital. 

After spending 20 minutes with the young patients and allowing them to take selfies with her, the First Lady signed the visitors' book, writing: “Great visiting you! Stay strong and positive! Much love, Melania Trump” and drew a flower and heart. In the chapel, she wrote: "You are in my thoughts and prayers, much love," and signed her name.  

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump called in on the Sant'Egidio lay community in Rome, where she thanked the volunteers for their work in the city  and throughout the world. “We talked about the many different programs that have been successfully launched and developed over many, many years now that have provided support and help to those who need it most, whether it's the elderly or the disadvantaged, and also victims of human trafficking throughout Africa and the whole world," she said, adding that it was a “great privilege” to hear firsthand about the work they do.  

“I am grateful for the kind invitation, and I look forward to supporting your efforts going forward,” Trump said, before meeting women who had faced great adversity. “I look forward to hearing from them directly about their struggles and how they were able to rebuild their lives.” 

Photos: Edward Pentin

Photo: L'Osservatore Romano

This article has been updated.