Donald Trump meets Pope Francis at the Vatican

The president greeted Francis in Sala del Tronetto, the room of the little throne, on the second floor of Apostolic Palace.

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with US president Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. Alessandra Tarantino / AFP
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VATICAN CITY // US president Donald Trump met Pope Francis, the pontiff with whom he has publicly clashed, concluding his tour of the ancestral homes of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions.

Mr Trump, midway through his nine-day maiden international journey, called on the pope at the Vatican on Wednesday where the two had a private 30-minute meeting laden with religious symbolism and ancient protocol.

The president greeted the pope in Sala del Tronetto, the room of the little throne, on the second floor of Apostolic Palace.

The men shook hands and Mr Trump could be heard thanking the pope and saying it was “a great honour” to be there. They then posed for photographs and then sat down at the papal desk, the pope unsmiling, as their private meeting began.

It ended a half-hour later when the pope rang the bell in his private study. The pontiff was then introduced to members of Mr Trump’s delegation, including his wife Melania, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as aides Hope Hicks and Dan Scavino. As is tradition, the pope and president then exchanged gifts.

The meeting could provide powerful imagery to Catholic voters back in the United States as well as the possibility for conflict between a president and a pope who have not often seen eye-to-eye.

The two men’s often opposite world views collided head-on early last year, when the pope was sharply critical of Mr Trump’s campaign pledge to build an impenetrable wall on the Mexican border and his declaration that the United States should turn away Muslim immigrants and refugees.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the Pope said then. Francis has been a vocal advocate for aiding refugees, particularly those fleeing the violence in Syria, deeming it both a “moral imperative” and “Christian duty” to help.

Mr Trump has never been one to let an insult, perceived or real, go by without a response, and he made no exception for the world’s best-known religious leader. He called the pope “disgraceful” for doubting his faith.

And even the pontiff’s congratulatory message sent to mark Mr Trump’s inauguration contained a reference to their disagreement, as the pope wrote that he hoped the US’ international stature would “continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need”.

Mr Trump arrived in Rome on Tuesday evening, his motorcade closing a busy Italian autostrada just after rush hour and prompting hundreds of onlookers to briefly step out of their gridlocked cars to gawp at the fleet of armoured vehicles.

He spent the night at the US ambassador to Italy’s residence.

Mr Trump's visit to the Eternal City came after two stops in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, he addressed dozens of Arab leaders and urged them to fight extremists at home and isolate Iran, which he depicted as menace to the region. And in Israel, he reaffirmed his commitment to strong ties with the nation's longtime ally and urged both the Israelis and the Palestinians to begin the process of reaching a peace deal.

No details or timetable have yet to be established for negotiations.

But while Mr Trump received extravagantly warm welcomes in Riyadh and Jerusalem, the reception could grow much cooler now that he has reached Europe, site of widespread protests after his election.

Climate change activists projected the words Planet Earth First on the massive dome of St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Tuesday night and protests are expected on in Rome and later in the week when Mr Trump travels to Brussels for a Nato meeting and Sicily for a G7 gathering.

* Associated Press