ROME — President Trump met with Pope Francis for the first time at the Vatican on Wednesday, as he continued his tour of homelands of followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Following the meeting, which was behind closed doors, the pontiff gifted Trump a medal by a Roman artist depicting an olive — a symbol of peace — as well as a signed message of peace and copies of his three main teaching documents.
Trump told the pope that he “won’t forget what you said” following the meeting. “We can use peace,” he said, adding that he would read the documents.
Trump gave the pope a first-edition set of writings from Martin Luther King Jr., including five books. He also gifted the pontiff a piece of granite from the Martin Luther King. Jr. Memorial in Washington.
The White House said that Francis spoke about King and his civil rights legacy during his address to Congress in 2015. It said the gift of writings “honors Dr. King’s hope, vision, and inspiration for generations to come,” while a bronze sculpture Trump gifted named Rising Above “represents hope for a peaceful tomorrow.”
Trump traveled to the Vatican with the first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.
Trump, on his first foreign trip as president, called on Muslims to confront “the crisis of Islamic extremism” in a speech to leaders from 50 Islamic nations in Saudi Arabia on Sunday and visited Jewish and Christian holy sites in Israel.
Both outspoken leaders have taken verbal jabs at each other. Francis, in reference to then-candidate Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, said: “A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not about building bridges, is not a Christian.” Trump replied that a religious leader capable of voicing such sentiments was “disgraceful.”
“For all their differences, both men say what they feel and speak clearly and freely, without holding back,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, a modern history professor at Rome’s La Sapienza University and the author of several books about the Vatican. “In their own ways, each is very undiplomatic.”
Francis and Trump were unlikely to criticize each other so bluntly in person — at least in public, said Andrea Tornielli, a veteran Vatican watcher with Italy’s La Stampa newspaper.
“This is not going to be a boxing match,” Tornielli said ahead of the meeting. “It’s their first meeting, and I think they will both try hard to find some common ground.”
Later Wednesday, Trump will meet with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and President Sergio Mattarella. Trump and Gentiloni met a month ago, during the prime minister’s state visit to Washington. This time, the U.S. and Italian leaders will likely discuss migration issues, international security and possible economic cooperation between the two countries that are longtime allies.
At least a half-dozen protests against Trump were scheduled to take place in Rome on Tuesday or Wednesday.