U.S. President Donald Trump’s Air Force One plane left Rome after a meeting with Pope Francis and is headed for Brussels, where he is scheduled to meet Belgian and European Union leaders and attend a NATO summit.
Trump left Rome to attend a NATO summit in Brussels, but was set to return to Italy late Thursday for the May 26-27 Group of Seven (G7) leading nations summit in Taormina, Sicily.
Newsmen report that Trump arrived at the Vatican on for talks with one of his most high-profile critics, Pope Francis.
In a statement, the Vatican said the two leaders expressed a “joint commitment in favour of life, freedom of worship and conscience,” alluding to their common opposition to abortion and understanding that Christians may be conscientious objectors on the issue.
“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 added.
Trump was granted 30 minutes of private pope time, 20 fewer than his predecessor Barack Obama in 2014. But a relatively short meeting was expected since Francis was booked to lead his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square straight after.
Before sitting down in the Papal Library, the two men shook hands and posed for pictures, with a smiling Trump thanking the pope and firing off a couple of pleasantries, while the pontiff looked serious and quiet.
The pair had a public spat last year when Trump was still a Republican contender for the presidency. Francis called his plan to build a wall on the Mexico border “not Christian,” a comment that Trump dismissed as “disgraceful.”
Tensions have abated amid Trump’s appointment of pro-life judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the nomination of Callista Gingrich, wife of former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as US ambassador to the Vatican.
After the audience, Trump introduced Francis to his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and later to the rest of his delegation, which included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor HR McMaster.
The pope shook the First Lady’s hand and cracked a joke about Trump’s diet. But it is unclear whether he said “What do you give him to eat, pizza?” or “What do you give him to eat, potica?” The latter is a typical Slovenian cake Francis is fond of.
The answer from Melania, a Catholic who showed up in a black dress and veil and brought a rosary for the pope to bless, was also hard to decipher. Opinions are divided on whether she confirmed Trump eats “pizza” or “potica.”
In the traditional gift exchange, Francis gave the US president three papal documents, including the Laudato Si encyclical on climate change, plus a signed copy of his New Year’s peace message and a medallion depicting an olive branch, the Vatican said.
“We can use peace,” Trump said in response.
He gave the pope a set of books written by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a fragment from the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, a picture of the pope’s 2015 speech to the US Congress and a sculpture symbolizing unity and resilience, the White House said.
Trump arrived at the Vatican with a 50-plus convoy of cars amid tightened security in Rome. Several roads were closed and police set up no-go areas around the US embassy and ambassador’s residence, where the US president stayed.
He also met Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, who serves as Vatican prime minister, and toured the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica with Melania, who separately visited the Bambino Gesu, a Vatican hospital for children.
Ivanka took part in a round table on human trafficking at the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic charity, and Trump’s agenda ended with talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
On Tuesday, a few dozen US ex-pats staged an anti-Trump protest in Rome, while overnight environmental group Greenpeace shone a pro-climate message on St Peter’s dome. It read: “Planet Earth First,” in a retort to Trump’s campaign slogan of “America First.”
“We are liking Italy very, very much,” the U.S. leader said during the meeting with Gentiloni.