ROME — Pope Francis showcased the surprise meeting between Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as an example of the “culture of encounter” that he has often touted.
“In the last few hours we have witnessed a good example of the culture of encounter in Korea,” Francis said following his weekly Angelus prayer on Sunday.
“I salute the protagonists, with the prayer that this significant gesture may constitute a further step in the path of peace, not only on that peninsula but in the whole world,” he said, referring to the two heads of state.
Mr. Trump stepped over the low stone curb that separates the two Koreas just before 4:00pm local time, making history by becoming the first sitting U.S. president to enter North Korea.
The pope has often been portrayed as anti-Trump, following the pontiff’s suggestion during the campaign in 2016 that anyone who thinks of building walls rather than bridges is “no Christian.”
In the last few years, journalists have occasionally tried to lure the pope into criticizing the U.S. president but Francis has generally managed to avoid this minefield, saying that he is always willing to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt.
The May 2017 meeting between the pope and Trump in the Vatican was an unqualified success, much to the chagrin of Trump-hating journalists and pundits who wished the visit to end in disaster.
In its official press release, the Vatican described the meeting as “cordial” and said the two men spoke favorably of “the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America,” as well as their joint commitment “in favor of life, religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”
That being said, the pope has occasionally criticized the U.S. president, often in an oblique way but sometimes more directly.
In May of this year Francis compared Trump’s border wall between the U.S. and Mexico to the Berlin Wall built in 1961 to keep East Germans from escaping into West Berlin, a curious comment given that he is the ruler of the only completely walled-in country in the world.
One of the buzzwords of the Francis pontificate has been the “culture of encounter,” an expression signifying the pope’s conviction that meeting people and working to find common ground is often more effective than focusing exclusively or primarily on differences.