Trump, Pope Francis: Search for common ground

2017-05-23 22:13
US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive at the Fiumicino's Leonardo Da Vinci International airport near Rome. (Andrew Medichini, AP)

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive at the Fiumicino's Leonardo Da Vinci International airport near Rome. (Andrew Medichini, AP)

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Vatican City - They are stylistic opposites, one a bombastic tycoon-turned-president, the other a famously modest pope. They disagree openly on such weighty issues as immigration, climate change and economic policy.

But President Donald Trump and Pope Francis share a trait that adds drama to their first meeting on Wednesday: unpredictability. And when they greet each other - in a Vatican ceremony laden with history and symbolism - they may well find common ground, particularly in denouncing religiously inspired violence and demanding Muslim leaders take a greater stand in rooting out fanaticism from their places of worship.

To reach public harmony, the two men, unquestionably two of the most famous figures on the planet, will have to set aside their past and very public conflicts.

Immigrants and refugees

When Trump took his oath of office on January 20, Francis sent him a telegram of congratulations, offering his prayers for wisdom and strength that the new president's decisions would be guided by ethical values.

"Under your leadership, may America's stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need, who, like Lazarus, stand before our door," the message read.

It was a subtle reminder that the two leaders had gotten off to a very rocky start over their different views on migration. Francis early last year was sharply critical of Trump's campaign pledge to build an impenetrable wall on the Mexican border and his declaration that the United States should turn away Muslim immigrants and refugees.

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian," Francis said then. The pontiff has been a vocal advocate for aiding refugees, particularly those fleeing the violence in Syria, deeming it both a "moral imperative" and "Christian duty" to help.

Trump has never been one to let an insult, perceived or real, go by without a response, and he made no exception for the world's best-known religious leader. He called Francis "disgraceful" for doubting his faith.

Social justice

Trump's visit to the Vatican is the third leg of his tour of the world's three main monotheistic religions, coming after he visited the cradles of Islam and Judaism. While pope and president differ on many social and economic issues, the two are preaching from the same playbook in demanding that Muslim leaders take a greater stand against extremists in their mosques and communities. It's likely that both sides will seek to highlight such common ground after their Wednesday morning audience.

Trump will be the 13th president to visit the Vatican. Francis got along exceedingly well with Barack Obama, and they had lengthy meetings both in Rome and Washington, as the former president praised the pope as a beacon of social justice. Other presidents and popes have also shared goals, including Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paull II who were united in their hopes for the defeat of communism.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  pope francis  |  us  |  italy

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