U.S. President Donald Trump arrived at the Vatican on Wednesday for talks with one of his most high-profile critics, Pope Francis, after the two men exchanged sharp words during the presidential campaign last year.
Under clear blue skies, Trump received a tribute from the Swiss Guard in a Vatican courtyard where he was greeted by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the prefect of the pontifical household.
Trump looked uncomfortable as he entered a small elevator taking him to the third floor of the Apostolic Palace, where he was accompanied by Ganswein and other officials along a frescoed corridor to the pope’s private study.
Following behind Trump were daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, a top White House aide, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and adviser Hope Hicks.
The pope did not smile as he greeted Trump outside the study. Trump, seeming subdued, said “it is a great honor.”
The two men then posed for photograghs and the pope kept a stern face while Trump beamed for the cameras. The meeting began at precisely 8:33 a.m.
Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis, his third stop on a nine-day foreign tour due to end on Saturday, is part of his world tour of religions after meeting leaders of Muslim nations in Saudi Arabia and visiting holy sites in Jerusalem.
The two leaders had a 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 landing in Rome on Tuesday, First Lady Melania Trump tweeted that she and the president “are looking forward to our visit to His Holiness Pope Francis @Pontifex.
This promises to be a personal [and] very special visit.”
Francis indicated he was willing to engage with Trump earlier this month. “There are always doors that are not closed.
We have to find doors that are at least a little open, in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward,” he said.
The US president was also due to meet top Vatican officials and tour the Sistine Chapel and St Peters’ Basilica with First Lady Melania, a Catholic, who was scheduled to separately visit a Vatican hospital for children.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka was expected to take part in a round table on human trafficking at the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic charity.
Later, Trump was scheduled for talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Reuters and DPA