In the first meeting between Pope Francis and the United States President Donald Trump, there was an “exchange of ideas” and symbolic gifts. Although the gift-giving is diplomatic and customary, the two leaders have had altercations just recently. Gifts may very well be a strong statement aimed towards the receiver.
The Vatican announced that the two men discussed the “promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and inter-religious dialogue,” protection for communities of faith abroad, and preservation of the environment. As the discussion came to a close, the Pope and the president presented each other with gifts.
Trump gave the Pope a collection of books written by civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., encased in a black box. He also gave a bronze sculpture hand-made by an American artist. Pope Francis gratefully accepted, and proceeded to present Trump with a few meaningful items. An advocate of environmental protection, the Pope shared his own writings on the matter, including a copy of his influential encyclical on preserving the environment, Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common Home.
The Pope also presented Trump with a medallion crafted by a Roman artist. Describing it, the Pope stated “It is an olive tree, the symbol of peace, with two branches. And here is the division created by war. And the olive tree is trying to bring them together in peace.” To which he added, “It is my hope that you may become an olive tree to construct peace.”
Pope Francis has made it clear that he has high hopes for world leaders to unite for the advancement of peace and human rights internationally. Trump simply responded with “we could use peace” and declared as he parted, “I won’t forget what you said.”
During the U.S. presidential election, Pope Francis had publicly disagreed with Trump’s stance on issues of immigration, climate change, and international policy. The Pope spoke out in February 2016 against a proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, declaring “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not a Christian.” Trump replied by calling the Pope’s questioning of his faith “disgraceful.”
Shortly after the conclusion of the meeting, the Pope and the president are said to be committed to “life, and freedom of worship and conscience” and ally “in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to migrants.”
Right now, there are many concerns that should be addressed. But most importantly, there must be steps taken to achieve those goals. Progress can be made with a focus on fundamental rights that all humans share, regardless of differing views. Collectively working towards peace is a significant start.