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Pope Francis meets with President Biden at Vatican

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and U.S. President Joe Biden had an unusually long meeting at the Vatican Oct. 29, talking about the climate crisis and poverty, among other issues.

The Vatican described the president's meetings with both the pope and with top Vatican diplomats as consisting of "cordial discussions," with both sides "focused on the joint commitment to the protection and care of the planet, the health care situation and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic."

They also discussed "refugees and assistance to migrants," the Vatican said, and "reference was also made to the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and conscience."

The pope and the president also exchanged "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," it said.

According to a statement released by the White House, "President Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world's poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict and persecution.

"He 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," the statement said.

Whether the issue of abortion came up was not immediately known; Biden supports legal abortion, while church teaching upholds the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.

During the nearly 90-minute meeting in the library of the Apostolic Palace, which included 75 minutes of closed-door discussions between the two leaders, Pope Francis gave Biden a large painted ceramic tile of a pilgrim walking along Rome's Tiber River and pointing to St. Peter's Basilica in the distance.

Pope Francis also gave the president a signed copy of his message for World Day of Peace 2021, a collection of his major documents, including his document on human fraternity, and the book, "Why Are You Afraid? Have You No Faith? The World Facing the Pandemic." The book contains photographs and homilies, messages and prayers the pope delivered during the pandemic, emphasizing the importance of love, hope, solidarity and the common good.

Biden presented Pope Francis with a framed handwoven "fiddleback" chasuble that had been handmade by the famous tailor shop of Rome, Gamarellis, in 1930, for use by the Society of Jesus in the United States. The White House was also making a donation of winter clothing to charities in the name of Pope Francis to commemorate the World Day of the Poor Nov. 14.

Biden also gave the pope a copy of his memoir, "Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose," about losing his firstborn son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer at the age of 46, and a presidential command coin inscribed with the unit of his late son, who had been deployed to Iraq in 2008.

Later, as the pope walked Biden to the door, he thanked him for the visit and "for this," he said, clutching the coin.

After meeting the pope, Biden went downstairs to meet Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister. In addition to his wife, Jill Biden, the president traveled with a 10-person entourage of senior White House staff, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser.

The White House said in a statement that those discussions included "efforts to rally global support for vaccinating the developing world against COVID-19" and Biden thanking the Vatican for its "leadership in fighting the climate crisis" and for "speaking out on behalf of the wrongfully detained, including in Venezuela and Cuba."

"The leaders committed to continue using their voices to advocate for personal and religious freedoms worldwide," the White House said.

The Vatican had unexpectedly canceled — about 24 hours before Biden's arrival — a scheduled livestream of the visit to the objections of reporters. A group of reporters was given permission to be present for Biden's arrival by car in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace and a livestream was aired only of the presidential vehicle convoy arriving at the Vatican and stopping in the courtyard.

The private papal audience was Biden's first presidential visit to the Vatican. Pope Francis had previously met Biden three times when Biden was vice president; the previous time was in 2016, after they both spoke at a conference on adult stem-cell research at the Vatican.

Biden is now the 14th U.S. president to have met a pope at the Vatican and the second Catholic president after President John F. Kennedy met Pope Paul VI almost 60 years ago.

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021