BRUSSELS (CBSNewYork) — President Donald Trump called his short private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican Wednesday the “honor of a lifetime.”
The president was welcomed by the Swiss Guard and then taken to meet Pope Francis, where the two men shook hands and posed for photographs ahead of a private meeting behind closed doors. Trump could be heard saying it was “an honor” to be there.
“He is something, he is really good. We had a fantastic meeting” the president said.
After their talk, they exchanged gifts. Trump gave Pope Francis a collection of writings by Martin Luther King Jr. The pope returned the gesture by presenting the president with a medal by a Roman artist featuring an olive branch, saying it was a symbol of peace, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
“We can use peace,” Trump said.
On Twitter later Wednesday morning, Trump said it was a “honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis.”
The Vatican later released a statement about the meeting.
“During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience,” the statement said. “It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.”
Trump and the pontiff have not always seen eye-to-eye. During the U.S. presidential campaign, the Holy Father called out then-candidate Trump, saying anyone who concentrates on walls and not bridges is not a Christian.
“The pope said something to the effect that, maybe, Donald Trump isn’t Christian, OK? And he’s questioning my faith,” Trump said at the time. “I was very surprised to see it.”
But last week, Pope Francis told journalists he hopes to find common ground with the commander-in-chief, saying in part, “What can the world expect — peace. Whatever the topic or whoever is in front of me, whoever that person may be, it’s peace.”
Also at the Vatican was First Lady Melania Trump, the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner. Both women were dressed in all black and wore veils, a customary sign of respect when meeting the pope, Grymes reported.
The pope joked with the first lady, asking if she feeds the president a Slovenian treat called “potizza.”
In St. Peter’s Square, the Hartmann family was visiting from West Babylon, Long Island.
“It’s nice that they meet together and hopefully get along and bring peace to the world,” Paul Hartmann said.
“Pope Francis, like he says, ‘The people pray for me.’ And I hope he looks at Trump and says, ‘I’ll pray for you.'” Joanne Hartmann added.
Richard Kremler, of Wantagh, Long Island, and his friends from St. John’s University just happened to be outside while Trump was inside.
“We saw it on the big screen. That was unbelievable,” he said. “It’s ironic that we’re from America, and now — halfway across the world — this is the closest I’ve ever been to my president.”
What do they hope Trump took away from the visit?
“Tolerance for other people and knowing the right things to say in the right moments,” Matthew Olenick, of West Haven, Connecticut, said.
“President Trump’s big initiative is peace in war torn countries, so hopefully we can have progress toward that,” Elliott Giammarino, of Middletown, New Jersey, added.
After a tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, the president participated in a bilateral meeting with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy and he also met with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Trump then flew to Brussels to meet with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel ahead of talks with NATO and European Union officials.