Published: Thu, May 25, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Setting aside past rude talk, Trump and pope focus on peace

Embattled press secretary Sean Spicer was not part of the intimate group of White House insiders who met Pope Francis at the Vatican Wednesday alongside President Donald Trump - despite being a devoted Catholic.

"Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis", a star-struck Trump wrote on Twitter before leaving Rome for Brussels and the next leg of his first overseas trip as USA president.

The Pope had said that anyone intent on building walls rather than bridges was "not Christian", a remark that the then Republican candidate branded "disgraceful".

'Those are the people that are running the White House, ' one Republican official told, commenting on the in-crowd who got to meet the pope.

Trump and Francis had a more contentious relationship during the GOP primary.

"Trump not welcome" said banners waved by the crowd, which police said numbered around 9,000.

But the Trumps' clothing choices in both Riyadh and the Vatican nonetheless sent clear messages about the attitude of the U.S. towards Islamic and Catholic values and tradition.

Donald Trump, who became the first USA president to visit the wall while in office, donned a yarmulke - a skullcap - which is customary; the site keeps stacks of them for visitors to wear.

Trump had a glowing recollection of the short visit, saying that it was "fantastic", upon speaking to reporters after the meeting.

"What do you feed him on?"

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Pope Francis (right) stands with US President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican.

In one short set of off-the-cuff remarks in Jerusalem, Trump told an Israeli delegation that he had just gotten back from the Middle East - despite the fact that Israel is squarely in the region.

"I think you'll enjoy them".

Before parting, Trump presented the pope with a gift, a series of first edition books by Martin Luther King Jr.

Pope Francis also gave Mr Trump a signed copy of his 2017 peace message, whose title is "Non-violence - A Style Of Politics For Peace", and a copy of his 2015 encyclical on the need to protect the environment from the effects of climate change.

Asked how the meeting with the pope went, Trump said: "Great".

He then visited the Sistine Chapel before leaving the Vatican for meetings with Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister, and Sergio Mattarella, the president. But there are few other areas where their views align.

Trump of course famously remarked that climate change was a "hoax" by the Chinese. In Israel, Trump reaffirmed his commitment to strong ties with the longtime USA ally and urged Israelis and the Palestinians to work harder toward peace. No details or timetable have yet to be established for negotiations.

While Trump received warm welcomes in Riyadh and Jerusalem, the reception could grow cooler now that he's reached Europe, site of widespread protests after his election.

The first family heads off to Brussels, Belgium, Thursday before returning to Italy where they will travel to Sicily on Friday and Saturday.

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