Pope Francis has taken the unusual step of backing up his weekly General Audience with thousands of pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square to accommodate his meeting with President Donald Trump.
The President is slated to arrive in the Vatican at 8:30am on Wednesday, and the Pope has moved his General Audience from 10:00am to 10:30am to make sure that the two leaders have plenty of time to discuss the issues that each brings to the table.
While mainstream media reports have generally focused on the differences between the two men, with the New York Times going so far as to suggest that the Pope is the “anti-Trump,” more careful observers have been quick to point out the many similarities between them.
Both leaders are true populists who believe in reaching out to the forgotten “peripheries” that are often overlooked by establishment elites. Testimony to the fact is both men’s proclivity for direct appeal to the masses via Twitter and their evident discomfort in dealing with the old guard.
“The new Pope is a humble man,” Trump tweeted in late 2013, “very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!”
The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 25, 2013
But even beyond personality traits, the men also espouse similar views on a remarkable number of issues.
While the Pope’s meeting with Obama in 2014 resembled a walk through an ideological minefield, he will find many more points of agreement with President Trump. President Obama was one of the most pro-abortion presidents in U.S. history, and was notably contentious in dealing with the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups who appealed for exemptions from the HHS mandate on grounds of religious liberty.
Despite a brief skirmish between Pope Francis and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump last year over the question of the U.S.-Mexican border wall, the two men share common ground on a large range of issues. Both leaders oppose abortion and euthanasia, defend religious liberty and conscientious objection, emphasize job creation, support the traditional family, and have spoken out strongly in defense of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere.
President Trump recently issued an executive order on the issue of religious liberty, after having reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy to keep U.S. funds from being used to promote abortions on foreign soil.
According to National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s talking points will include religious freedom, cooperating with the Catholic Church in humanitarian missions and combating religious persecution and human trafficking.
For his part, the Pope recently surprised journalists by refusing to speak ill of the U.S. President.
During the brief press conference held aboard the papal plane returning to Rome from Fatima earlier this month, the pontiff fielded a number of questions, including a tendentious query from NBC’s Claudio Lavanga, who pressed the Pope concerning his upcoming meeting with President Trump.
Lavanga underscored the two men’s differences, telling the pontiff that while he is a bridge-builder, Trump “is threatening to build walls.”
It seems that the president also has “opinions and decisions different from you in other areas, for example regarding the need to act against global warming or concerning the acceptance of migrants,” Lavanga continued. “So, on the vigil of your meeting with him, what opinions have you formed of the policies that President Trump has adopted on these issues and what do you expect from a meeting with a head of state that appears to think and act the opposite of you?”
Refusing to be corralled into criticizing the President, Pope Francis said it would be imprudent of him to judge someone he hasn’t yet met and spoke instead of his desire to hear what the President had to say.
“I never form a judgment of a person without first listening to him, and I believe that I shouldn’t do so,” the Pope replied. “In speaking between ourselves, things will come out: I will say what I think; he will say what he thinks. But I have never, ever wanted to form a judgment without hearing someone out.”
Francis went further still, suggesting that he hope to build up a relationship of mutual esteem and even “friendship” with the President.
“There are always doors that aren’t closed,” Francis said. “We have to look for doors that are at least ajar, to pass through and speak of things we agree on and move forward from there. Step by step.”
“Peace is a work in progress, built day by day,” he continued. “And so is friendship between people, mutual understanding and esteem: they are built up every day. Respect for the other, saying what one thinks, but with respect, walking together… Someone may see things in a certain way: that should be said, being very clear in what each one thinks.”
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