Search for common ground will be key to pope's meeting with Trump


By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Despite a few pointed comments in the
past and fundamental differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy,
military spending and climate change, sparks are not expected to fly May 24
when Pope Francis welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to the Vatican.

The two will have a private conversation, with interpreters
present, and while anything is possible, protocol dictates that the joint
statement issued after the meeting will describe it as “cordial.”

Going into the meeting, Pope Francis made it clear he hoped
it would be.

On Pope Francis’ flight back to Rome from Portugal May 13, a
reporter asked him, “What are you expecting from a meeting with a head of
state who seems to think and act in a way contrary to your own?”

The pope replied, “I never make a judgment about people
without hearing them first. It is something I feel I should not do. When we
speak to each other, things will come out. I will say what I think; he will say
what he thinks. But I have never, ever, wanted to make a judgment without
hearing the person.”

Pope Francis said he would look first for areas of agreement
and shared principles — his basic recipe for creating “a culture of

“There are always doors that are not closed,” the
pope said about his meeting with Trump. “We have to find doors that are at
least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common
and go forward. Step by step.”

The key, he said, is “respect for the other, saying
what we think, but with respect, walking together. Someone sees things in a
certain way: say so, be honest in what each of us thinks.”

Honesty, even if not completely diplomatic, characterized a
couple of pointed
remarks Pope Francis and then-presidential candidate Trump made in reference to
the other’s positions.

Flying in February
2016 to Rome from Mexico, where he had just paid homage to people who have lost
their lives trying to cross into the United States, Pope Francis was asked
about candidate Trump’s promise to build a wall the entire length of the

“A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever
it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian,” the pope said. He
added that he would not tell anyone how to vote and that he would “have to
see if he said these things, and thus I will give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Trump responded by saying that the Mexican government had
given Pope Francis only “one side of the story” and was “using
the pope as a pawn.”

Also, he said, “for a religious leader to question a
person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I
will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what
is happening now.”

Efforts to protect freedom of conscience for employers and
health-care workers and the need to defend religious freedom are likely to be a starting point
for finding common ground.

A discussion about religious persecution could open the door
to Pope Francis restating his conviction of the moral obligation to welcome
strangers, especially those fleeing persecution, terrorism, war and abject

Protecting the unborn is another common concern and would
provide an opening for Trump to talk about his Supreme Court nominee and his
steps to halt funding of abortions overseas. It also would give Pope Francis an
opening to talk about the protection of all life — especially the weakest —
with health care, education,
job opportunities and a clean environment where people can thrive.

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