President Biden meets with Pope at Vatican ahead of climate talks

Two old friends share sympathy, he laughs when Biden, who is a devout Catholic, visits Europe for the first time as president of the United States.

US President Joe Biden and Pope Francis struck up talks on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic when the world’s two leading Roman Catholics met for an hour and a quarter at the Vatican on Friday.

The two leaders, embracing each other lovingly, sat across from each other at a desk in the papal library, accompanied by a translator. The two prayed together and discussed the moral imperative that world leaders address climate change, Biden said.

Their private meeting lasted a long time as the two engaged in personal discussions, bringing up Biden’s loss of his adult son, Beau, and laughing at aging well. Biden and the Pope then exchanged gifts and held a larger meeting that included First Lady Jill Biden and senior officials.

The long session, which Biden called “wonderful,” delayed the president of the United States more than an hour in official meetings with government leaders. Hundreds of people lined the streets of Rome to catch a glimpse of the US President’s caravan as he passed, many of whom were taking photos.

It is Biden’s first trip to Europe since he took office in January. He will participate in a summit of the leaders of the Group of 20 (G20), the world’s largest economies, in Rome on October 31 and at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, on 1 and November 2.

On Friday afternoon, Biden met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Sergio Mattarella, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron.

The US president is expected to meet on the sidelines of the G20 with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Thursday. The two are likely to talk about the exclusion of NATO member Turkey from the US F-35 fighter jet program.

Biden’s meeting with the Pope comes as he faces criticism in the United States from Catholic bishops on the issue of abortion rights. A major political battle is brewing in the United States as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on whether states can ban abortion procedures.

American bishops have been debating whether Biden should be allowed to continue receiving Holy Communion, a Christian rite of worship that involves taking bread and wine in memory of Christ.

A devout Roman Catholic, Biden attends weekly Masses regularly and keeps a photo of the Pope behind his desk in the Oval Office. He has said that he is personally opposed to abortion, but as an elected leader he cannot impose his views.

Biden, 78, said Pope Francis, 84, advised him to continue taking Holy Communion.

Biden said the two did not discuss abortion directly, but that “we only talked about the fact that he was happy that I was a good Catholic and … continue to receive communion.”

Biden is only the second Catholic to be elected president of the United States. The first was President John F Kennedy in 1960.

“In his audience with Pope Francis today, President Biden thanked His Holiness for his defense of the world’s poor and those who suffer from hunger, conflict and persecution,” the White House said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden, flanked by Swiss Guards, arrives to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican [Andrew Medichini/AP Photo]

“He praised Pope Francis’ leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure that the pandemic ends for all through the exchange of vaccines and a fair global economic recovery.”

A dozen Swiss Guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red feathered halberds stood at attention in the courtyard of San Damaso when Biden and the first lady of the United States arrived.

Biden slipped what is known as a challenge coin into the Pope’s palm during a handshake, praising Francis as “the greatest warrior for peace I have ever known.”

The personalized coin represents Biden’s home state of Delaware and a reference to his late son Beau’s military unit, the 261st Signal Brigade of the Delaware National Guard.

“The tradition is, and I’m just kidding about this, but next time I see you, if you don’t have it, you have to buy the drinks,” Biden said, referring to the coin. He added: “I am the only Irishman you have ever met who has never had a drink.”

Francis laughed and replied, “The Irish brought whiskey.”

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