Pope Francis met Joe Biden on Friday, in the US President’s first official visit to the Vatican since his inauguration.
Mr Biden, the second Catholic president in American history, is in Rome to attend the G20 summit taking place on October 30-31.
The President arrived at the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard at 12 noon after his motorcade entered the Vatican through an arch to the left of the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Mr Biden and his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, were welcomed by Mgr Leonardo Sapienza, the regent of the papal household, as well as Gentlemen of His Holiness, who greet heads of state when they visit the Pope.
As Mr Biden shook hands with the lay dignitaries, he could be heard saying: “Thank you, it’s good to be back. It’s good to be back.”
As he shook the hand of the last papal gentleman, Mr Biden joked, “I’m Jill’s husband,” before entering the apostolic palace to meet Pope Francis.
The encounter was Mr Biden’s fourth time meeting Pope Francis, but his first as US President.
According to a brief Vatican statement, Pope Francis and President Biden met privately in the Pope’s library for around 75 minutes.
After their private conversation, the two leaders, accompanied by Jill Biden, participated in a customary exchange of gifts.
Mr Biden gave the Pope a handwoven 1930s’ fiddleback chasuble, the outermost vestment worn by a priest during Mass.
The chasuble was a gift from the archives of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, DC, where Mr Biden frequently attends Mass. The chasuble was commissioned in 1930 by the famous Roman tailor Gammarelli.
The White House has also made a donation of winter coats in Pope Francis’ name.
Pope Francis gave the President an image on a ceramic tile called The Pilgrim, volumes of the papal documents, the 2021 Message for Peace, the 2019 document on human fraternity, and a Vatican book about the Pope’s March 2020 prayer service for an end to the pandemic.
The President also had private meetings with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
The pair previously in 2015 during the papal visit to the US when Mr Biden was Vice President.
The following year the two exchanged a greeting during a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine, at which Mr Biden spoke. Mr Biden also met Francis at his papal inauguration in March 2013.
Their meeting today was only the second time a Catholic US president has met the Pope after John F Kennedy met Pope Paul VI in 1963.
The United States and the Vatican formally established diplomatic relations two decades later, in 1984, under President Ronald Reagan.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met Pope Francis in June, was part of Biden’s delegation on Oct. 29.
Mr Biden has been at the centre of a debate in the US about the reception of Holy Communion by pro-abortion politicians.
After his election, Archbishop José Gomez, president of the US Bishops’ Conference, noted the disagreement between Mr Biden and the bishops on the issue of abortion.
In November, the US bishops will meet in Baltimore, Maryland, for their autumn general assembly, at which they are expected to vote on a teaching document about reception of the Eucharist.
Pope Francis has previously called abortion “murder”, compared the action to “hiring a hitman” and said that unborn victims of abortion bear the face of Jesus. But he has called on clergy to take a pastoral approach rather than a political approach towards Catholic legislators who support the practice.
Mr Biden and his administration have taken a number of steps to either fund abortion outright or loosen regulations against the funding of pro-abortion groups.
Ahead of their meeting, a White House spokeswoman acknowledged that “the pope has spoken differently” than Biden on abortion.
Mr Biden, a Catholic, “is somebody who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important”, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing with reporters.
Unlike past meetings between the Pope and a head of state, the Vatican did not allow media to be present when Mr Biden and Pope Francis met and no video live stream was provided.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, a small group of journalists, including members of the president’s own media pool, would be present for the first handshakes and the initial exchange as they sat down before the formal and private conversation. Journalists would again be present to witness the exchange of gifts.
With COVID-19, the Vatican has no longer allowed media pools at meetings with heads of state. A Vatican spokesman said the same protocol was being followed for Mr Biden’s visit.
Mr Biden is in Rome to take part in the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit, which takes place in a different country every year.
Other G20 leaders in Rome this weekend will also meet Pope Francis.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met the Pope Friday morning, shortly before Mr Biden.
On Saturday, Francis will meet India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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