President Trump holds ‘fantastic meeting’ with Pope Francis at the Vatican

(ABC News) — President Trump met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, a highly anticipated first meeting between the two leaders, who previously publicly clashed over immigration politics.

The two held “cordial discussions” in “an exchange of views on various themes relating to international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities,” according to a statement from the Vatican.

“It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the state and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of health care, education and assistance to immigrants,” the statement read.

Later in his day, during his meeting with the Italian prime minister, Trump said his meeting with Francis was “great.”

“He is something,” Trump said of the pontiff. “We had a fantastic meeting.”

“We’re liking Italy very, very much, and it was an honor to be with the pope,” Trump said.

After their private one-on-one meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, Trump and Francis exchanged gifts in front of reporters and the president’s visiting delegation, which included his wife, Melania Trump; his daughter Ivanka Trump; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other White House advisers.

The president gave the pope a case of books by Martin Luther King Jr., and the pope gave Trump a medal by a Roman artist inscribed with an olive branch.

Francis explained that the branch is a symbol of peace, and Trump replied, “We can use peace.”

The pope also presented Trump with three books that he said he sends to all Catholics: one on family, one on the Gospels and one on “care of our common home, the environment.”

“Well, I’ll be reading them,” Trump said.

The visit to the Vatican was the third stop of Trump’s tour of sites representing three major religions. Over the weekend, he stopped in Saudi Arabia, where he delivered an address to Muslim leaders, and Monday through Tuesday he visited Israel and the West Bank and met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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Trump and Francis certainly had differences to iron out during their meeting. In February 2016, the pontiff remarked on then-candidate Trump’s key proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it was un-Christian.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian,” Francis said.

Trump responded with a statement calling Francis’ remarks “disgraceful.”

“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” Trump said. “They’re using the pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves — that’s the Mexican government — they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant and so dangerous and so bad for the United States.”

Trump and Francis have also staked out different positions on climate change. Their meeting comes as Trump weighs whether to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which he promised to cancel within his first 100 days in office.

Asked recently what he expected from his meeting with Trump, given their differing views, Francis replied, “I will tell him what I think. He will tell me what he thinks. But I never wanted to judge someone before I listen to the person first.”