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Donald Trump Hails Vatican Meeting With Pope Francis As ‘An Honour’

The Guardian / UK: Donald Trump has met Pope Francis at the Vatican on the third leg of his first overseas trip as US president, one year on from a public clash about what it means to be a Christian.

The hastily arranged get-together featured a discussion about healthcare and immigration, and a light-hearted exchange between the pontiff and Melania Trump about whether she fed her husband a popular type of Slovenian cake.

The opening exchanges between the pope and the president – who disagree on issues ranging from the need to fight global warming to welcoming and integrating migrants of all faiths – began on an unusually sombre note, with the pope not exuding his usual warmth and cheerfulness.

Francis also signalled to the president that it was best to talk out of the earshot of reporters and cameras, who were quickly led out of the papal library where the two had a 29-minute chat with only a translator present. Trump could be heard saying it was an honour to meet the pope.

The discussion was described as “cordial” in a statement by the Holy See, which said “satisfaction was expressed” for the good US relationship with the Vatican and their “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 statement said.

Left unsaid was the fact that the Trump administration’s policies on migrants have been condemned by Francis’s allies in the US, including Joe Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.

They also discussed world affairs, including interfaith dialogue and peace in the Middle East, with emphasis on the protection of Christians.

By the end of the half-hour private meeting, once the door to the library was reopened, Francis seemed more chipper. Upon meeting the first lady, he asked her whether she fed her husband potica, the pope’s favourite Slovenian dessert. A translator then asked Melania: “What do you give him to eat?”. It was unclear whether the first lady understood the remark, and seemed to say, “pizza?” before smiling and answering, “yes”.

The US president was also accompanied by his daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, national security adviser HR McMaster, and personal assistant Keith Schiller, as well as press aides.

Trump arrived at the Vatican at about 8.30am after spending the night at the residence of the US ambassador to Italy. That post has not yet been filled by Trump’s administration.

Trump was led into the frescoed halls of the Vatican with Melania – dressed in a traditional black dress and veil, as is custom but not mandatory – walking a few feet behind him.

“It’s not like Trump Tower in New York,” a German archbishop, Georg Gänswein, could be overheard joking to Trump as the president’s entourage shuffled into a Vatican elevator.

As is customary, the two exchanged gifts. Trump offered the pope a large box that he said was filled with books written by Martin Luther King.

“This is a gift for you,” Trump was overheard saying. “I think you will enjoy them. I hope you do.”

Francis gave Trump a large medallion that depicted an olive branch, a symbol of peace, to which the president replied: “We can use peace.” The medallion is traditionally offered to politicians, though the symbol varies.

The pope also offered Trump some of his latest writings (encyclicals), including his work on the need to protect the environment. “Well, I will be reading them,” Trump said.

As the president left the room, he expressed gratitude to the man he once called disgraceful for questioning his faith. The dispute was related to Trump’s proposal to build a wall between Mexico and the US – a policy the pontiff had said was not Christian.

“Thank you, thank you, I won’t forget what you said,” Trump said in his parting words.

The president then spoke to Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s head of parliament, for nearly an hour where more specific policy issues were probably discussed.

The president and first lady were given a tour of the Sistine Chapel, after which Melania visited a children’s hospital in Rome while Ivanka toured Sant’Egidio charity centre.

Trump, who will fly to Brussels on Wednesday for a Nato summit, will wrap up his tour on Friday at the G7 summit in Sicily.

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