U.S. President Donald Trump and Pope Francis held a 30-minute meeting at the Vatican on Wednesday, underscoring the emphasis during the first presidential foreign trip on the three Abrahamic (monotheistic) faiths.
The two men, meting for the first time, shook hands. The pope appeared somber. The president grinned.
“It’s a very great honor,” Trump said to the leader of the Roman Catholic Church after they were seated in the pope’s private study.
After the president’s private meeting with the pope in the Apostolic Palace there was a brief, expanded audience for the other members of the U.S. delegation. It included First Lady Melania Trump, (clad in a black lace tea-length dress and black lace veil), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner (who are both now official advisors to the president).
That encounter included an exchange of gifts.
“This is a gift for you. These are books from Martin Luther King. I think you will enjoy them,” the president told the pope.
The pope gave Trump what he said was a medal by a Roman artist. He said it’s an olive which is a symbol of peace.
“We can use peace,” the president replied.
“I signed it personally for you,” the pope told Trump.
“That’s so beautiful,” the president replied.
The pope then also gave the president three books on the topics of family, the joy of the gospel and “care of our common home, the environment.”
“Well, I’ll be reading them,” Trump promised the pope.
WATCH: Trump and Pope Francis exchange gifts
The mood initially appeared stiff, according to the few reporters allowed to witness the event firsthand. They noted the pontiff was rather stone-faced at the beginning but later during the gift exchange the mood lightened considerably.
The pontiff had a “cordial” discussion with the U.S. president, according to the Vatican, which said it hopes for collaboration on “healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.”
The two men had a clash of words last year when Trump, as a presidential candidate, touted his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The first Jesuit pope said anyone who thinks of building walls instead of bridges “is not Christian,” a comment that Trump called “disgraceful.”
The evening before the audience a top Vatican official, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who is from Ghana, took to social media to note that both the president and the pope are reaching out to the Islamic world to exorcise it of religious violence.
“One offers peace of dialogue, the other security of arms,” he said on Twitter, apparently referencing the $110 billion weapons deal the U.S. president concluded with Saudi Arabia days ago.
Prior to the meeting with Trump when asked about his expectations for it the pope told reporters he “never, ever wanted to make a judgment without hearing the person.”
After a tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, the president left Vatican City for separate meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Later in the day Trump travels to Belgium for Thursday’s NATO summit in Belgium.
On Friday and Saturday, the president is back in Italy, specifically on the island of Sicily, for the Group of Seven summit.
During his earlier stop in Israel, Trump declared that both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are “ready to reach for peace.”
He made the remark Tuesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech at the Israel Museum. Trump had held talks with Netanyahu on Monday and met him again on Tuesday after a brief visit to the West Bank for a one-hour discussion with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis which has dragged on for nearly half a century,” Trump added in his speech at the museum, shortly before departing Israel for Rome, adding that Israelis and Palestinians “can make a deal.”
There was no specific mention in any of Trump’s remarks in Israel to “occupation” or the “two-state solution” – a pair of major sticking points for the Palestinians.
“Head spinning: Never has a U.S. president expressed so much confidence in a conflict-ending peace agreement with so little prospect of success,” tweeted Aaron David Miller who was a U.S. negotiator on the Middle East in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Earlier Tuesday, speaking alongside Trump in Bethlehem, Abbas said the fundamental problem for the Palestinians is with the Israeli occupation and settlements and Israel’s failure to recognize Palestine.
“The problem is not Judaism but occupation,” added Abbas.
Abbas, who has seen his political support from his constituents weaken, reiterated a willingness to accept the two-state solution and the 1967 borders.
Trump, in Bethlehem, vowed to do “everything I can” to bring peace to the Middle East, echoing sentiments of several of his predecessors who tried and failed to achieve the same goal.
His effort to broker peace comes early in a Trump administration distracted by a domestic political firestorm, part of it self-ignited by the president’s own comments.
The U.S. president arrived in Israel on Monday after a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where Trump said King Salman assured him Riyadh wants peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
In public remarks on Monday, Netanyahu warned that “it will not be simple,” but also expressed cautious optimism that “for the first time in many years and the first time in my lifetime, I see a real hope for change.”
The status of Jerusalem –- a holy city for the three major monotheistic faiths and which both the Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capitals — is also a major complication to a solution.