Pope Francis met President Joe Biden on Oct. 29, in the U.S. president’s first official visit to the Vatican since his inauguration.
Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, was in Rome to attend the G20 summit that took place on Oct. 30-31.
The president arrived at the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard at 12 p.m., after his motorcade entered the Vatican through an arch to the left of the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Biden and his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, were welcomed by Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, the regent of the papal household, as well as Gentlemen of His Holiness, who greet heads of state when they visit the pope.
As Biden shook hands with the lay dignitaries, he could be heard saying: “Thank you, it’s good to be back. It’s good to be back.”
The encounter was Biden’s fourth time meeting Pope Francis, but his first as president.
According to a brief Vatican statement on Oct. 29, Pope Francis and Biden met privately in the pope’s library for around 75 minutes.
In a statement, the White House said during their meeting, Biden thanked Pope Francis “for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict and persecution.”
Biden also “lauded Pope Francis’ leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone through vaccine sharing and an equitable global economic recovery.”
After their private conversation, the pope and Biden spent another 15 minutes together speaking informally and exchanging gifts.
Biden gave Pope Francis one of his “command coins,” a pocket-sized medallion given by the president to service members as a reward for performance. The president told Francis the coin is given “to warriors and leaders, and you are the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met.”
When Pope Francis walked Biden to the door at the end of their time together, with the command coin still in his hand, he said in English: “Thank you for that.”
Biden gave the pope a handwoven 1930s fiddleback chasuble, the outermost vestment worn by a priest during Mass.
The chasuble was a gift from the archives of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., where Biden frequently attends Mass. The chasuble was commissioned in 1930 by the famous Roman tailor Gammarelli.
The White House has also made a donation of winter coats for the poor in Pope Francis’ name.
Pope Francis gave the president an image on a ceramic tile called “The Pilgrim,” volumes of papal documents, his 2021 message for peace, the 2019 document on human fraternity, and a Vatican book about the pope’s March 2020 prayer service for an end to the pandemic.
The U.S. president also had private meetings with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
The Holy See press office said in a statement: “During the course of the cordial discussions, the parties focused on the joint commitment to the protection and care of the planet, the healthcare situation and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the theme of refugees and assistance to migrants. Reference was also made to the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and conscience.”
“Finally, the talks enabled an exchange of views on some matters regarding the current international situation, also in the context of the imminent G20 summit in Rome, and on the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation.”
In their final exchange, Biden shared an anecdote about the African-American baseball pitcher Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, who, because of his race, played in his first Major League Baseball game in 1948, when he was 42 years old. Biden recalled that Paige used to say: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”
“You’re 65, I’m 60,” Biden quipped.
Pope Francis previously met Biden in 2015, during his visit to the U.S., when Biden was vice president. The next year, the two men exchanged a greeting during a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine, at which Biden spoke. Biden also met Pope Francis at his papal inauguration in March 2013.
Biden has been at the center of a debate in the U.S. about the reception of Holy Communion by pro-abortion politicians.
After Biden’s election, Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference president, noted disagreement between the president and the conference on the issue of abortion.
Pope Francis has previously called abortion murder, compared the action to “hiring a hitman,” and said that unborn victims of abortion bear the face of Jesus.
He has also called on clergy to take a pastoral rather than a political approach towards Catholic legislators who support the practice.
Ahead of their Oct. 29 meeting, a White House spokeswoman acknowledged that “the pope has spoken differently” than Biden on abortion.
Biden “is somebody who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at an Oct. 27 briefing with reporters.
Unlike past meetings between the pope and a head of state, the Vatican did not allow media to be present when Biden and Pope Francis met on Oct. 29 and no video live stream was provided.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, a small group of journalists, including members of the president’s own media pool, would be present for the first handshakes and the initial exchange as they sat down before the formal and private conversation. Journalists would again be present to witness the exchange of gifts.
With COVID-19, the Vatican has no longer allowed media pools at meetings with heads of state. A Vatican spokesman said on Oct. 28 the same protocol was being followed for Biden’s visit.
Biden was in Rome to take part in the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit, which takes place in a different country every year.
Other G20 leaders in Rome that weekend also met Pope Francis, including South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
(Photo courtesy of Vatican Media via Catholic News Agency.)
By Hannah Brockhaus, Catholic News Agency