Pope Francis and Donald Trump have had a bit of friction in their relationship. In February, Francis said that we should not be “focused on building walls.” In response, Trump wrote, “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.” But on Wednesday, he met with the holy man, whom Catholics hold as the 266th leader directly following in the footsteps of Saint Peter the Apostle.
The private meeting between the religious and political leaders lasted for about 30 minutes. Francis welcomed Trump to the Apostolic Palace, where he goes only for official occasions, as the pontiff resides in the Vatican guesthouse rather than the Papal Apartments. According to Reuters reporter Philip Pullella, who covers the Vatican, the air between the two was tense before the media was ushered out, and when they emerged, Pullella wrote, “both men looked far more relaxed.”
As a gift, Pope Francis gave Trump an olive tree, saying through a translator, “It is my desire that you become an olive tree to construct peace.” Trump reportedly responded, “We can use peace.” But in a more telling moment, Francis also gave Trump a copy of his encyclical (an official papal message sent to all the bishops) that addressed the need to combat climate change. While all popes release encyclicals during their tenure, Francis is the first to address climate change in one of his missives. Francis’ message didn’t go unnoticed. CNN referred to the meeting as “The Sistine Showdown,” while Mediaite ran the headline “Papal Shade.” Trump’s new budget could cut around $5 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency.
In return, Trump gave Pope Francis a set of first edition books by Martin Luther King Jr. The new president also seemed humbled by his meeting with the 80-year-old Franciscan, reportedly pausing at the door and saying, “Thank you, thank you. I won’t forget what you said.” On Wednesday, President Trump even changed the cover photo on his Twitter profile to an image of him and Pope Francis.
In a statement, the Holy See described the meeting as “cordial” and said, “It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the [Vatican] and the Catholic Church of the United States, engaged in service […] to healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.”