Francis and Trump meeting “expected” in May
Encounter between the two leaders highly likely when US President travels to Italy for G7 summit
Francis and President Donald Trump are expected to have their first meeting at the end of May, a moment that will bring together two of the world’s most riveting public figures.
Diplomatic sources have said the United States president will see the Pope when he comes to Italy for the G7 gathering of world leaders in Sicily while the White House yesterday confirmed Trump would attend the summit.
Both of Trump’s immediate predecessors met Popes for the first time when travelling to Italy for G8 summits with President Barack Obama meeting Benedict XVI in 2009 and George W. Bush meeting John Paul II in 2001.
The Holy See are not commenting on when a meeting between the two will take place but Vatican sources say that the 26-27 May gathering in Taormina opens the way for Francis to see Trump.
“This visit gives the president an opportunity to meet the Pope,” one diplomatic source explained. “And if he came to Italy without seeing Francis it would be seen as a snub, particularly given their earlier clashes over migration. Trump also sees that wherever you sit on the political spectrum attacking the papacy isn’t wise.”
Nevertheless, the meeting is set to be full of political tension due to the radically different agendas of Francis, a figurehead for the compassionate, global world order and Trump, who has adopted a nationalistic tone of “America first.”
The Pope has been described as “Leader of the Global Left” by the Wall Street Journal thanks to his focus on inequality and climate change, and has already criticised Trump on the issue of migration. Francis described the Republican candidate as “not Christian” for his plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico while recently warning against populist saviours that can result in dictators like Hitler.
Meanwhile, the Vatican as criticised Trump’s travel ban on people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen entering the country and putting limits on accepting refugees.
But parallels have also been drawn between the Pope and Trump as two populist leaders shaking up their respective institutions by taking a message directly to the people.
US Vatican writer John Allen has made the comparison while adding: “it’s the nature of populists to be divisive, because they upset systems and challenge business as usual.”
He points out, however, that while Trump is “a politician and a celebrity” Francis is at heart a pastor who, unlike the president, “rarely personalises his rhetoric.”
The big differences in the two leaders’ global agendas will need to be bridged by the president’s ambassador to the Vatican, who is expected to be announced soon.
Previous Republican administrations appointed some heavy hitters as Vatican ambassadors such as Congressman Francis Rooney, Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and Jim Nicholson, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Under Trump, the role will require diplomatic expertise, need someone with the ear of the president and an individual who recognises the domestic consequences to clashing with the papacy.
Today, a number of people are turning to the Pope as an upholder of the liberal order, and an opponent to the forces that Trump has unleashed. So, when the two meet, some will be asking if this is a case of the United States president paying a visit to the leader of the free world?