First came the solemnity of the national anthems as the Bidens were welcomed to the grandeur of the Chigi Palace in Rome on Friday by Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and his wife.
Then came the smiles, as President Biden and first lady Jill got the giggles as president and prime minister went one way to discuss world affairs, and their wives went the other for tea and a get-to-know you session.
It made for a relaxed moment before Biden faced the thornier issue of a meeting with President Macron of France, whose government is only now calming down after being snubbed as part of a new U.S.-U.K.-Australia pact.
Draghi is emerging as key player in Europe with the retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
And as host of the G20 Summit, he has a key role in the weekend’s diplomatic work.
But Joe Biden and first lady Jill looked relaxed as they strolled into the grand entryway of the residence of Italian prime ministers.
The oldest parts of the Palazzo Chigi date back to the 16th Century.
Biden is on only the second overseas visit of his presidency, but one that holds a busy schedule of meetings with world leaders in Rome and in Glasgow, Scotland.
First came the formal moments of the two anthems as the Bidens were welcomed to the official residence of Italian prime ministers by Mario Draghi and his wife Maria Serenella Cappello
Then first lady Jill and the president share a laugh on the red carpet
First Lady Jill Biden, President Joe Biden, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Maria Serenella Cappello pose for a photograph before their meeting in Rome on Friday afternoon
‘The leaders discussed challenges to security in the Mediterranean Sea region and reaffirmed the importance of NATO’s efforts to deter and defend against threats from every strategic direction,’ said the White House after their meeting
His trickiest was expected to be tea with Macron, as he tries to woo the French leader and smooth feathers ruffled by a new security pact between the U.S., U.K., and Australia that led to France losing out on contract to supply submarines to Canberra – in a deal worth as much as $80 billion.
He was running 45 minutes late for the meeting with Draghi after spending time with President Sergio Mattarella.
‘President Biden thanked Prime Minister Draghi for all Italy has done to support the people of Afghanistan, including by convening an extraordinary G20 session to address counter-terrorism efforts and humanitarian aid, and by temporarily housing over 4,000 Afghans en route to the United States last August,’ said the White House afterwards.
‘The leaders discussed challenges to security in the Mediterranean Sea region and reaffirmed the importance of NATO’s efforts to deter and defend against threats from every strategic direction.’
For Biden, a devout Catholic, Friday was an extra special day with an audience with Pope Francis.
Afterwards, as he entered the Chigi Palace, Biden revealed the pope told him he’s a ‘good Catholic’ and that the two men did not discuss the controversial issue of abortion during their 75-minute sit down behind the closed doors of the Vatican.
‘We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving communion,’ Biden said after the meeting.
Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, met with the pontiff amid pressure from conservative Catholics in the United States about his abortion stance.
The U.S. Conference of Bishops is weighing whether to admonish Catholic politicians like Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who support a woman’s right to an abortion – which Catholics consider a sin – yet also take Holy Communion at mass.
Biden said he did not take communion Friday. Asked whether he and Pope Francis discussed the U.S. Conference of Bishops, the president replied that’s a ‘private conversation.’
He also said that he and the pontif exchanged prayers for one another. The president said he prayed for ‘peace.’
And he revealed Pope Francis blessed his son Beau’s rosary beads that he wears around his wrist. Beau Biden died in 2015 from brain cancer.
He said they talked about climate change, including the ‘need’ and ‘moral responsibility’ to deal with it during their meeting.
Biden’s time with the pope on Friday was longer than either of his two predecessors got with the pontiff.
Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, was scheduled to be with the Pontiff for only an hour but received extra time. In 2017, Francis met then President DonaldTrump for 30 minutes and, in 2014, Francis met with then President Barack Obama for 52 minutes. Biden’s meeting with Pope John Paul, in 1980, in contrast, was only 45 minutes.
The meeting was ‘wonderful,’ Biden told reporters afterwards.
During their meeting, Biden presented Francis a woven chasuble, or liturgical vestment, made in 1930 by the famed papal tailor Gamarelli and used by the pope’s Jesuit order in the U.S., where it was held in the archives of Holy Trinity Church, Biden’s regular parish in Washington. President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic U.S. president, also worshipped at Holy Trinity.
‘I hope you find this gift from the United States appropriate,’ Biden said.
Pope Francis and President Joe Biden met for 75 minutes at the Vatican on Friday
President Biden and Pope Francis with their translators at their private meeting
President Biden and Pope Francis during their meeting at the Holy See
Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza (right) welcomes President Joe Biden (center) and First Lady Jill Biden (left) to the Vatican Friday for their meeting with Pope Francis
The Pope’s gentlemen (right) greet President Joe Biden (second from left) and First Lady Jill Biden (left) upon their arrival Friday at the Vatican
President Joe Biden (center) and First Lady Jill Biden (left) arrive at the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican in Rome
The motorcade of President Joe Biden drives across the Via della Conciliazione in Rome. The motorcade was 85 cars long, due to Italy’s COVID-19 restrictions
The Swiss Guards prepare for the arrival of President Joe Biden for a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican
Biden also presented the pope with a presidential challenge coin.
‘I’m not sure this is appropriate, but there’s a tradition in America. That the president has what is called a command coin,’ the president explained.
Biden said it was meant for ‘warriors and leaders.’
‘And you are the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met,’ Biden told the pope.
The president said that while the U.S. seal adorned the front of it, the back was unique.
‘But I know my son would want me to give this to you because on the back of it I have the state of Delaware and the 261st, the unit my son served with,’ he said, referencing the late Beau Biden and his service in Iraq with the Delaware Army National Guard.
‘The tradition is, and I’m only kidding about this, the next time I see you you don’t have it, you have to buy the drinks,’ Biden continued. ‘I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met who’s never had a drink.’
The pope spoke back to Biden in Italian, though was heard making a joke about whiskey.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis, 84, gave Biden, 78, a ceramic tile depicting the iconography of the pilgrim, as well as a collection of the pope´s main teaching documents, the Vatican said.
First Lady Jill Biden joined her husband for the closed-door meeting at the Vatican. She left when it was over – as did Pope Francis – but Biden stayed for an extended bilateral meeting with senior Vatican officials.
‘It’s good to be back,’ the president told one of the Papal gentlemen upon his arrival at the Holy See. ‘I’m Jill’s husband,’ he also said, which is one of his trademark greetings.
The notoriously late president arrived on time for the noon gathering. He wore a dark suit and tie while Jill Biden donned a traditional black lace mantilla head covering for the occasion along with a dark suit with an animal print pattern on it.
In an edited video released by the Vatican, the president can be heard introducing the pope to members of his staff.
‘You just made he a hero letting me introduce her,’ Biden said after presenting the pope to Annie Tomasini, the director of Oval Office Operations.
Biden introduced Dr. Amanda Sloat, the senior director for Europe at the National Security Council, by telling the pope, ‘Things you should know about this woman, she knows more about foreign policy than I do and she’s smarter than I.’
He shared the military accolades of Dr. Kevin O’Connor with the pope and then explained he was the physician to the president.
‘They assign me a doctor,’ Biden explained.
When it was acting Chief of Protocol Asel Roberts’ turn, Biden joked: ‘She tries to keep me in line.’
The meeting comes after the Vatican abruptly canceled a planned live broadcast of the meeting – and White House reporters were left standing outside in the courtyard.
President Joe Biden arrives in the San Damaso courtyard in the Vatican for his planned meeting with Pope Francis
Jill Biden leaves the Holy See after the meeting with Pope Francis
Pope Francis adjusts his face masks as he leaves his meeting with President Biden
The Vatican press office provided no explanation for why press coverage was limited to the president’s motorcade arriving in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, the head of Papal Household, greeted him.
The footage and photos of Biden and the Pope meeting in the palace throne room was provided by the Vatican, which edited the footage before it was publicly released.
The Bidens’ motorcade to the Vatican was 85 cars long, due to Italian COVID-19 rules, which only allow four people per vehicle.
The president was accompanied by senior officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, among others.
Biden, a devout Catholic, attends weekly mass and Catholic holy days. He carries rosary beads that belonged to his deceased son Beau and he keeps a photo of himself and the Pope behind his desk in the Oval Office in the first row of pictures next to ones with his family.
It’s the fourth time the two men have met and was Biden’s first stop on his five-day trip to Europe. He’ll also attend the G20 meeting in Rome over the weekend before heading to Scotland on Monday for the UN Climate Summit known was COP26.
Biden’s sitdown with Pope Francis comes as his administration is fighting Texas’ abortion law, the most restrictive law in the nation, which bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected and that is normally after six weeks and before many women even know they are pregnant.
In mid-November the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will convene in Baltimore to debate whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be admonished for receiving Communion.
The Swiss Guards prepare for the arrival of President Joe Biden for a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican
A handout from the Italian State Police shows snipers on a rooftop in Rome near the Vatican, as world leaders flock to the city for the G20. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited with Pope Francis at noon on Friday
President Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, keeps a photo of himself and Pope Francis on his desk in the Oval Office, it can be seen above to the left of the president
President Biden and First Lady Jill touched down in Rome at 2:30 am local time
Then Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Pope Francis (right), with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell standing behind them, wave from a balcony at the U.S. Capitol after the Pope addressed a joint-session of Congress in September 2015
In June, the divided U.S. Conference of Bishiops voted to draft a statement on communion that some bishops say should specifically admonish these Catholic politicians, including Biden, the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy. They did so despite warning from the Vatican such a move could sow seeds of discord. The bishops will discuss the issue further at their November gathering.
Biden takes communion. He has said he is personally opposed to abortion but cannot impose his views as an elected leader.
Pope Francis has strongly upheld the church’s opposition to abortion, calling it ‘murder.’
Biden also met with His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, while at the Vatican.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with Pope Francis in September 2015 when the pope addressed a joint session of Congress
Pope Francis (left) greets then Vice President Joe Biden (right) at the Vatican in April 2016, before President Donald Trump was elected. Biden’s son Hunter (second from right) and son-in-law Howard Krein (center) stand along his side
Biden talked about his relationship with Pope Francis last October when he addressed the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner, doing so from Wilmington’s Queen theater because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Biden talked about his first meeting with Pope Francis during the Pope’s 2013 inauguration at the Vatican when Biden was vice presdient.
‘When I greeted him he said, ‘Mr. Vice President you’re always welcome here,” Biden said. ‘He was really sending a message to the world to put out a welcome sign in the front door of our church.’
Biden also mentioned Pope Francis’ trip to the White House in 2015 – when he was in office with President Barack Obama – saying that like his visit to the Vatican in 2013, it gave him the sense of ‘hope and possibility together.’
‘And for me it came at a very personal moment, a very tough time in the life of my family. Our son Beau had just died a few months earlier,’ Biden said. ‘Pope Francis took the time to meet with my entire family to help us see the light through the darkness.’
Biden, as vice president, also traveled to the Vatican in April 2016 for a stem cell conference.
At the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner, Biden said that his friendship with Pope Francis was proof that ‘anything is possible’ in the U.S.
‘I live in an amazing country, we all live in an amazing country,’ Biden said. ‘Where an Irish-Catholic kid like me from Scranton, Pennsylvania would one day befriend a Jesuit Pope.’
‘But that’s who we are as a country,’ Biden said.
Past presidential meetings with popes
Here are some notable moments from past presiential meetings with pontifs:
-President John F. Kennedy´s 1963 meeting with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican was historic: The first Roman Catholic president of the United States was seeing the Roman Catholic pontiff only days after his coronation. Kennedy, who faced anti-Catholic bias during his presidential campaign, shook hands with the pope rather than kissing his ring, as is the usual practice for Catholics.
-Pope Paul VI´s trip to New York in October 1965 presented protocol problems. President Lyndon Johnson wanted to see him, but the pontiff was a chief of a state not officially recognized by the U.S. The solution: Johnson flew to New York for dinner at the apartment of his friend Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the pontiff was welcomed to Johnson´s suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel the next day.
-Johnson had a penchant for somewhat odd papal presents. At that 1965 meeting, his gifts to Paul included a silver-framed, autographed photograph of himself. Two years later, at their next meeting at the Vatican, Johnson presented the pontiff with a foot-high bust of himself.
-Jimmy Carter was the first president to play host to a pope at the White House. Pope John Paul II’s stay at the White House featured 10,000 guests — split between separate arrival and departure ceremonies on the North and South Lawns.
-President Ronald Reagan had trouble keeping his eyes open on his first visit to the Vatican in 1982. Reagan´s head bobbed and his eyes repeatedly closed for seconds at a time while John Paul talked solemnly of crises in the Falkland Islands and Lebanon. The incident came during a 10-day European trip with a packed schedule for Reagan. But it fed already rampant talk that the 71-year-old president wasn´t physically up to the job.
-Reagan sparked controversy over the separation of church and state in 1984 by establishing formal U.S. diplomatic relations with the Vatican, a long desire of the Holy See. Shortly afterward, Reagan and John Paul met during refueling stops at the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska (their paths were crossing as one finished and one began trips to Asia). The Alaska stop generated lots of excitement, but also scores of T-shirts reading ‘The Pope Meets the Dope.’
-For his last of four meetings with Pope John Paul, President Bill Clinton flew to St. Louis to greet the pontiff as he began a U.S. tour. Back in Washington, the Senate was in the throes of its impeachment trial against Clinton, and John Paul said ‘America faces a time of trial.’ But it was generally assumed that the pontiff, who also challenged Americans to ‘a higher moral vision,’ was speaking about his long-running and sharp dispute with Clinton over the president’s support for abortion rights.
-At George W. Bush´s last meeting with John Paul, at the Vatican in June 2004, he presented the pope with the Medal of Freedom, the nation´s highest civilian honor. The pontiff responded by reading a statement about his ‘grave concern’ over events in Iraq, where the U.S.-led war had been going on for just over a year.
-After John Paul died in 2005, Bush became the first sitting U.S. president to attend a papal funeral.
-At his first audience with John Paul´s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, Bush´s overly casual behavior was noted by many Italians and Vatican watchers. He addressed the pope as ‘sir,’ rather than the customary ‘your holiness,’ and leaned far back in his chair with one leg thrown informally over another, instead of the ramrod-straight physical posture more commonly seen in the pontiff´s presence. Rome´s ANSA agency flashed a ‘Gaffe Presidente’ headline.
-For Benedict´s first U.S. tour as pope, there were several presidential firsts: Bush traveled to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to meet the pontiff´s plane, brought the largest crowd of his presidency to the South Lawn for Benedict´s arrival ceremony, and hosted a dinner in the pope´s honor that Benedict didn’t attend.
-Former President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis twice, once at the Vatican in 2014 and again during the pope´s 2015 visit to the U.S., where Obama met Francis on the tarmac at Andrews and played host in the Oval Office. Before 11,000 people on the South Lawn of the White House, Obama praised the pope as a ‘living example of Jesus´ teachings,’ while Francis lauded Obama for his commitment to addressing climate change.
-Former President Donald Trump had a famously prickly relationship with Pope Francis. The two sparred during the 2016 campaign, with Francis taking a veiled swipe at Trump by declaring that people who think only of building barriers instead of bridges are ‘not Christian.’ Trump, who campaigned on building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, called the comments ‘disgraceful’ and suggested the Mexican government was using Francis as a pawn. When the two met at the Vatican in 2017, photos showed a stone-faced Francis standing next to a grinning Trump. The president later said their meeting had been ‘fantastic.’
– The Associated Press
In this July 2, 1963, file photo President John F. Kennedy and Pope Paul VI talk at the Vatican. Kennedy’s meeting with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican was historic: the first Roman Catholic president of the United States was seeing the Roman Catholic pontiff only days after his coronation
In this March 27, 2014 file photo, Pope Francis and President Barack Obama smile as they meet at the Vatican
In this June 13, 2008, file photo, Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush walk in the Vatican Gardens during their meeting at the Vatican
In this May 24, 2017, file photo Pope Francis meets with President Donald Trump on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican