News media are abuzz over a possible meeting between Donald Trump and Pope Francis when the U.S. President visits Italy this May.
The White House announced on Saturday that President Trump will travel to Italy for a G7 summit in late May. This will be the Mr. Trump’s first visit to Europe as president and observers suggest that he will likely meet Pope Francis for the first time during that trip as well.
Mr. Trump spoke by phone with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni Saturday, after which the White House stated that the president would attend the meeting of seven leading industrialized economies in Taormina, Sicily on May 26 and 27.
The Italian daily, La Stampa, has cited unnamed “diplomatic sources” as saying that the President Trump will see Pope Francis when he comes to Italy in May. In similar circumstance, both of Trump’s immediate predecessors met popes for the first time when travelling to Italy for G8 summits, the newspaper notes. Barack Obama met Benedict XVI for the first time in 2009 and George W. Bush met John Paul II in 2001.
President Trump has yet to name the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, a key listening post for American diplomacy. A meeting between the president and the Pope in May would increase pressure on Mr. Trump to fill that chair prior to his trip, even though the presence of a U.S. ambassador is not a prerequisite for a state visit to the Holy See.
Historically, Republican administrations have been swifter in naming ambassadors to the Holy See than Democrats.
Bill Clinton didn’t name Raymond Flynn ambassador until March 1993, and Barack Obama appointed Miguel Diaz in May 2009. George H. W. Bush, on the other hand, appointed Tom Melady in February of 1989, and George W. Bush named Jim Nicholson as ambassador shortly after his election.
Scheduled for May 26-27, the G7 summit will also provide President Trump with the occasion to meet a number of other world leaders. Several prime ministers, including Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni, Japan’s Shinzō Abe, the UK’s Theresa May and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to attend, as well as European Union representatives Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk.
Trump and the Pope have had no interaction since the election, other than a congratulatory papal note on the day the American president was sworn in and the Pope’s recommendation that people give the new president time to prove himself before rushing to judge him.
Though media have focused primarily on ostensible differences between the two leaders on issues such as immigration, others have noted the similarities between two populist leaders who came from outside the system and have shaken up established protocols. Both successfully tapped into a large swath of the population that felt marginalized and ignored.
Both leaders also spoke out critically against the media in the very same week. The Pope said it is necessary to “break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on ‘bad news’ (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure).”
Despite his evident dislike of walls, Pope Francis declared last month that “every country has the right to control its borders,” especially where the risk of terrorism exists.
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