VATICAN CITY (AP) — Sitting face to face across a desk, President Joe Biden and Pope Francis engaged in extended talks on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic Friday as the world’s two most prominent Roman Catholics ran overtime in highly personal discussions that also touched on the loss of president’s adult son and jokes about aging well.

Vatican video showed Biden and Francis sharing many warm moments. His face is usually drab in official photos but Friday he was in good spirits. According to the Vatican the private meeting took place for about 75 minutes. This is a long time for a pontiff’s audience.

They sat together at the desk of the papal library. A translator accompanied them. After exchanging gifts, they met for a larger meeting that included the first lady as well as top officials. Biden was more than an hour late for the later meeting due to this lengthy session.

“Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution,” the White House said. “He lauded Pope Francis’ leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone through vaccine sharing and an equitable global economic recovery.”

Pope Francis is pictured with Joe Biden, the U.S. president during an audience at Apostolic Palace in Vatican City on October 29, 2021.
Vatican Pool via Getty Images

Biden’s wife Jill arrived in San Damaso to find a dozen Swiss Guards, dressed in blue-and-gold striped uniforms with red-plumed Halberds, standing at attention. They were greeted by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza who manages the papal household.

“It’s good to be back,” Biden said as he shook the hand of one of them. “I’m Jill’s husband,” he said to another before he was ushered into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the pope’s private library.

According to the Vatican, Biden presented Francis a woven chasuble, or liturgical vestment, made in 1930 by the famed papal tailor Gamarelli and used by the pope’s Jesuit order in the U.S., where it was held in the archives of Holy Trinity Church, Biden’s regular parish in Washington. The White House said it would make a donation to charity in the pope’s name.

Holy Trinity’s history is rich and it has played an important role in the advocacy for civil rights and desegregation since its founding in 1787. John F. Kennedy (the first Catholic U.S. President) also attended Holy Trinity.

Biden also presented the pope with what’s known as a challenge coin, passing it to the pope in the palm of his hand as they shared a handshake, hailing Francis as “the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met.”

President Joe Biden, third right, prepares to leave after a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, on Oct. 29, 2021.
Third from the right: President Joe Biden prepares for departure after meeting with Pope Francis at Vatican on October 29, 2021.
via Associated Press

Biden spoke to the pope about his customized coin features. It includes a depiction of Biden’s home state of Delaware and a reference to his late son Beau’s military unit, the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. Biden said that Beau would want him to give it to Francis.

“The tradition is, and I’m only 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’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met who’s never had a drink.”

Francis laughed and responded: “The Irish brought whisky.”

Francis gave Biden a ceramic tile depicting the iconography of the pilgrim, as well as a collection of the pope’s main teaching documents, the Vatican said.

Biden prides himself in his Catholic faith. He uses this as a moral guidepost for many of his socio-economic policies. Biden often attends Mass with a Rosary, and he has been criticized by many U.S. bishops for his support of abortion rights.

Because of last-minute Vatican restrictions on media access, there were no video or live images from the meeting.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in previewing the visit, said “there’s a great deal of agreement and overlap with the president and Pope Francis on a range of issues: poverty, combating the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic. These are all hugely important, impactful issues that will be the centerpiece of what their discussion is when they meet.”

Biden visits Rome and Glasgow, Scotland to attend back-toback summits. First, a gathering of leaders from the Group of 20 developing and leading nations, followed by a climate conference.

Biden and Francis have previously met three times but Friday’s encounter was their first since Biden became president.

Biden met separately with Sergio Mattarella (Italian President) and Mario Draghi (Italian Prime Minister), Friday following the papal meeting. In an attempt to repair relations with France, Biden will meet with President Emmanuel Macron. This is part of an effort for repairing relations after the U.S. & U.K. agreed to supply nuclear-powered submarines Australia.

Pope Frasncis exchanges gifts with U.S. President Joe Biden and and First lady Jill Biden at the Apostolic Palace on Oct. 29, 2021, in Vatican City.
Pope Frasncis and Joe Biden, the United States President and first lady of America, exchange gifts at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City on October 29, 2021.
Vatican Pool via Getty Images

Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis generated some controversy in advance as the Vatican on Thursday abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live and denied press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television plan reflected the virus protocol for all heads of state audiences, though he didn’t say why more robust live TV coverage had been initially scheduled and then canceled.

According to the Vatican, it will provide edited footage from the encounter for accredited media.

This visit occurred as the U.S. Bishops were preparing to meet in Baltimore within three weeks for their annual fall Convention. Conservatives are trying to block Biden’s ability to receive Communion. Although it is unlikely that any document from the event will name the president, he could still face some sort of rebuke.

Francis stressed his support for abortion rights and said he would not condemn political leaders. However, Catholic policy permits individual bishops the freedom to decide whether or not to prohibit people from receiving Communion.

On the eve of Biden’s visit, a leading U.S. conservative cardinal and Francis critic, Cardinal Raymond Burke, penned an impassioned plea for U.S. bishops to deny Catholic politicians Communion if they support abortion rights legislation.

Burke didn’t cite Biden by name, but said such Catholic politicians were causing grave scandal to the faithful since church law says someone who is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” should not be admitted to Communion.

Catholic politicians who support abortion rights “have, in fact, contributed in a significant way to the consolidation of a culture of death in the United States, in which procured abortion is simply a fact of daily life,” Burke wrote.

Biden has long cast his faith as a cornerstone of his identity, writing in his 2007 memoir “Promises to Keep” that Catholicism gave him a sense “of self, of family, of community, of the wider world.” He admits to becoming angry with God after the death of his first wife and baby daughter in a 1972 traffic accident, but Biden said he never doubted God’s existence.

According to him, his faith can accept all views and he believed that it was enough to allow for diversity in 2007, according The Christian Science Monitor.

“My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine,” Biden said. “There are elements within the church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the church, you are at odds with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.”


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