CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 19 August 2017

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Trump and Pope Francis face off

VATICAN (SE): As the long cavalcade of menacing-looking black vehicles snaked its way through the maze of alleyways in Vatican City, dark suited men loitered behind trees, lurked in corners, leaned on fences or scurried about like agitated teenagers waiting for a first date, and the president of the United States of America (US), Donald Trump, arrived at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican for his much talked about face to face meeting with Pope Francis on May 24.

Under the watchful eyes of the Swiss Guards as well as his own security, Trump, his wife, Melania, and daughter Ivanka, together with her husband, Jared Kushner, were greeted by a phalanx of dignitaries before being ushered inside by the prefect of the papal household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

As the official party, which also included the US security adviser, Herbert McMaster, and secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, undertook the even paced tramp through a series of doors and long corridors, those of lesser degree scurried about with cameras or earpieces, while others ensured the cortege would not break step.

Upon arrival in the anteroom of the papal library, Pope Francis appeared on the dot of 8.30am, shook hands with Trump and then invited him to enter the holy of holies.

A photo op followed, with a cheesy Trump grinning at the camera and a dour looking pope mostly studying the floor. The two then sat down at the table for a 30-or so minute private chat in the presence of only one translator provided by the Vatican.

Later in the morning, Trump tweeted, 'Honour of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.'

In his farewell to the pope, Trump was overheard saying, 'I won't forget what you said,' which with his later tweeting about peace and the medallion engraved with the olive tree symbol he received, indicated this could have well been the major topic of conversation between the two.

His private chat with Pope Francis, details of which are not published, was followed by a much longer 50-minute meeting with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Parolin, together with the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

A press release from the Vatican reads, 'During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the US, as well as the joint commitment in favour of life, freedom of worship and conscience.'

It continues, 'It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the state and the Catholic Church in the US engaged in the service of the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.'

The press release then notes that the cordial exchange of views that took place between the head of state and the head of the Church would lead to political negotiations and interreligious dialogue, particularly with the Middle East and in relation to the fate of Christians in that area.

As the two men first met, Trump looked far more upbeat about the get together than Pope Francis did, with perhaps the papal mood affected by predictions there may be a clash between the two men, who have engaged in public barbs in the past.

However, reports say that there was no sign of tension during their meeting.

The Vatican statement released after the meeting focussed its attention on public issues on which the Vatican and the Trump administration are mostly in agreement—the protection of human life and religious freedom.

However, at the much longer meeting with the two Vatican bureaucrats much more must have been said, but all that can be concluded at this stage is that plans and strategies to bring about peace in conflict areas must have been the main topic.

Also included in Trump's take-home gift pack were copies of Pope Francis'writings, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si'), The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) and The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium).

Trump promised the pope that he would read them all.

For his part, Trump gifted Pope Francis with a first edition set of the writings of Martin Luther King Jr, which included all of his five books; Stride Toward Freedom, The Measure of Man, The Strength to Love, Why We Can't Wait and Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

This is probably in recognition of Pope Francis’ references to King during his address to the US congress in 2015.

The gift pack for the pope from Trump also included a piece of granite from the memorial to King, Stone of Hope, a statue that stands in Washington, together with a bronze sculpture named Rising Above, which a spokesperson for the White House described as representing hope for tomorrow.

Perhaps a recipe for a bit more peace in the world.

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