US President Joe Biden holds lengthy meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican

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Photos by AFP

US President Joe Biden met Pope Francis on Friday as world leaders travelled to Rome for the G20 summit.

Mr Biden is in Europe to attend two summits – G20 in Rome and Cop26 in Glasgow.

Declaring it’s “good to be back”, Mr Biden opened his five-day European trip with an extended visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

A dozen Swiss Guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red-plumed halberds stood at attention in the San Damaso courtyard for the arrival of Mr Biden and his wife, Jill.

They were received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household, and then greeted one by one the papal ushers, or papal gentlemen, who lined up in the courtyard.

Mr Biden’s private meeting with the pope lasted about 75 minutes, an unusually long time for an audience with the pontiff.

The pair then proceeded to a broader meeting with the first lady and top officials joining.

They have met three times previously, but this is their first since Mr Biden was elected president.

Mr Biden, only the second Catholic president of the US, attends mass regularly and is open about his faith and how it has helped him through a series of family bereavements. He keeps a picture of the pope behind his desk in the Oval Office.

The White House said it expected the meeting, which is being held in private, to be warm, and that Mr Biden and the pope share a range of concerns, from poverty to climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived at the Vatican in an unusually long motorcade of more than 80 vehicles, owing in part to Italian Covid-19 restrictions on the number of people allowed to share a car.

A dozen members of the Swiss Guard in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red-plumed halberds stood at attention in the San Damaso Courtyard awaiting MrBiden’s arrival.

Mr Biden was received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household, and then, one by one, greeted the papal ushers, or the papal gentlemen, who lined up in the courtyard.

“It’s good to be back,” Mr Biden said as he shook the hand of one of them.

“I’m Jill’s husband,” he said to another, before being escorted into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the pope’s private library.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in previewing the visit, said she expected a “warm and constructive dialogue” between the two leaders.

“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,” Ms Psaki said.

“These are all hugely important, impactful issues that will be the centrepiece of what their discussion is when they meet.”

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president and pontiff would meet privately, then hold talks with expanded delegations.

Mr Biden, the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, made his audience with the pope a clear priority.

It will be his first scheduled meeting on a five-day trip abroad and his wife, Jill, will also attend.

Mr Biden is visiting Rome and then Glasgow, Scotland, for back-to-back summits.

After the papal meeting, Mr Biden will meet separately on Friday with the Group of 20 summit hosts, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

He will end the day by meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, part of an effort to mend relations with France after the US and UK decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, scotching an existing French contract.

Mr Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis generated some controversy in advance as the Vatican on Thursday abruptly cancelled plans to broadcast the meeting with him live and denied press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television plan reflected the virus protocol for all audiences with heads of state.

Viewers were permitted to see only the arrival of the presidential motorcade in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.

The pair are expected to discuss climate change and, before their discussion, Pope Francis called on political leaders heading to Cop26 to urgently tackle the climate crisis to give “concrete hope to future generations”.

He said “radical decisions” are needed as the world faces a “succession of crises” in health care, the environment, food supplies and the economy.

In a special Thought for the Day message for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Pope Francis warned against countries taking an isolationist approach, and called for a “renewed sense of shared responsibility for our world”.

His comments come as world leaders prepare to head to Glasgow for the climate summit, where countries are under pressure to increase their ambition to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

US President Joe Biden holds lengthy meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican (thenationalnews.com)

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