By Currents News Staff and Elise Ann Allen
ROME (Crux) — In one of his most keenly anticipated meetings since taking office in January, President Joe Biden met with Pope Francis at the Vatican Friday for a lengthy conversation that touched on a variety of issues of shared interest.
A White House statement said that Biden thanked Pope Francis “for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution” during the 75-minute conversation.
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.”
There was no mention of abortion or life issues, on which Biden is known to be at odds with official Church teaching, in the White House statement.
In the Vatican’s own statement, the “cordial” discussions were said to have touched on an array of issues, including the environment, the fight against COVID-19, and assistance for migrants and refugees, as well as the protection of human rights, including “freedom of religion and conscience.”
They also spoke about “some matters regarding the current international situation” and the G20 summit in Rome this weekend, as well as the promotion of world peace “through political negotiation,” the Vatican said.
Biden, only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, had met Pope Francis previously on three different occasions, the first being in 2013 after the Mass for Pope Francis’ inauguration.
The two met again in 2015 during Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families, shortly after Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer. They then met a third time at the Vatican in 2016 while Biden was still vice president and was invited to speak at a conference on adult stem-cell research.
After arriving at the Vatican shortly around noon local time, Biden and Pope Francis held a closed-door meeting.
It is unusual for a pope’s meeting with a head of state to last so long.
Pope Francis’ meetings with Biden’s two immediate predecessors were significantly shorter, with his 2014 audience with Barack Obama lasting around 52 minutes and his 2017 audience with Donald Trump lasting about 30 minutes.
Biden is currently in Rome for a two-day G20 leaders’ summit, after which he will head to Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the United Nations COP26 climate conference.
As he arrived in the Vatican, Biden was cheerful and exchanged smiles and handshakes with the Vatican officials waiting in the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. After their meeting, which concluded at 1:25 p.m. local time, the two exchanged gifts.
Pope Francis gave Biden a painting on a ceramic tile titled, “The Pilgrim,” as well as several recent papal documents, including this year’s Message for Peace and a 2019 document on human fraternity.
Biden, for his part, gave Pope Francis a handwoven chasuble dating back to 1930. A chasuble is the outermost liturgical vestment a priest wears during Mass.
After the meeting, Biden, who was accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as other representatives from the White House and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, met with the Vatican secretary of state, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Biden left the Vatican just before 2:50 p.m. local time, almost three hours after his arrival.
It is no surprise that social issues such as poverty, climate change, and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic were discussed during the meeting, as these have long been seen as areas of overlap between Pope Francis and the Biden administration.
Many of these same issues were discussed during a phone call between the two shortly after Biden won the U.S. 2020 presidential election.
At the time, Biden’s team released a statement thanking Pope Francis for his leadership “in promoting peace, reconciliation, and the common bonds of humanity around the world.”
He pledged his commitment to work with the Vatican and the Catholic Church “on the basis of a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”
Although Pope Francis did not issue public congratulations for Biden’s victory, his phone call was interpreted as an act of support for the newly elected president.
In a customary congratulatory note for Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Pope Francis offered his prayers for Biden, asking specifically that his decisions would respect human life.
In his message, Pope Francis prayed that under Biden’s leadership, the American people would “continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”
Pope Francis continued: “At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses,” I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.”
Although abortion and life issues were not mentioned in the White House statement on the Oct. 29 meeting, Biden’s pro-abortion policies have been a point of contention among many Catholics in the United States, including some bishops.
That was an underlying issue in the lead-up to the meeting, as the U.S. bishops are set to meet Nov. 15-18 for their fall general assembly, during which they are expected to vote on a “teaching document on the Eucharist.” The decision to draft this document was made during the bishops’ spring assembly.
Friday’s meeting between Biden and Pope Francis was preceded by a commotion among the Vatican press corps when the Vatican announced, then canceled, a live video feed of the event.
Usually, for visits of heads of state such as this, a live feed is available from the moment of arrival until the two men enter the papal library for their closed-door meeting, picking back up again for the pope’s meeting of the delegation and the exchange of gifts between the two leaders.
The Vatican had originally announced that the live feed would be available, but one day prior to the event, they said this feed would be canceled, showing only Biden’s arrival at the Vatican’s outer courtyard, with edited footage being provided later.
In their official explanation for the cancellation of the feed, the Vatican said they are sticking to the outdoor arrival in keeping with new post-Covid protocols, which left many Vatican journalists questioning why the feed was announced in the first place and then canceled.