Trump Will Meet Pope Francis At Apostolic Palace During Vatican Visit

May 21, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to the Vatican for our feature Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand some of the stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing a word or phrase connected with the story.

Today, we'll talk about the Apostolic Palace. That refers to the pope's grand official residence in Vatican City. It's the location of a much anticipated meeting between Pope Francis and President Donald Trump on Wednesday. But the fact is that the pope doesn't even live there, and that offers a telling contrast with his visitor. NPR's Tom Gjelten is going to tell us why and why that might matter. He reports on religion and belief. Tom, thanks so much for joining us.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Of course, Michel.

MARTIN: So what more can you tell us about the Apostolic Palace? It really is a palace, right?

GJELTEN: Well, it's a series of buildings. This is the heart of Vatican City. It was built in the 1800s, took almost a hundred years to build, huge and ornate, a complex of buildings and chapels, the most famous of which is the Sistine Chapel, the ceiling fresco there of course was painted by Michelangelo. But it's actually full of famous frescoes painted by Renaissance painters. There are meeting rooms, Vatican offices and very fancy apartments where popes have traditionally lived, but not Pope Francis, as you say. He considered the Apostolic Palace way too fancy for him.

Remember how humble he is as a pope. He insisted on moving into a much more modest guesthouse, and that's in keeping with this style that he has as a humble person. And - but, yes, this is where he's going to be meeting with President Trump next Wednesday. Very few people would say that President Trump is himself a humble person.

MARTIN: Well, we'll talk a little bit more about that. We have two of the world's most recognizable leaders going into this meeting. What has been their history going up to this?

GJELTEN: It's been a difficult history, as you know, Michel. I mean, the pope as a leader of Christians feels very strongly about the Christian duty to welcome the stranger. He's been an outspoken advocate for immigrants and refugees, and with respect to Trump, who has not exactly been an outspoken advocate for immigrants and refugees, the pope has been very critical.

In February of 2016, the pope told reporters that, quote - referring obliquely to Donald Trump - "a person who only thinks about building walls wherever they may be and not building bridges is not a Christian." And, of course, Trump did not take well to that. He thought what the pope said was disgraceful, and then he came out with this somewhat bombastic warning to the Vatican about what it should see as being at stake in the 2016 election. Listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS's ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated, unlike what is happening now with our all-talk-no-action politicians.

GJELTEN: So, Michel, as far as building walls versus building bridges are concerned, there is definitely some bridge building that needs to be done in this meeting.

MARTIN: So that was during the campaign.

GJELTEN: Right.

MARTIN: What about since then?

GJELTEN: They've actually not even spoken since Donald Trump took office. This is going to be their first conversation. But if anything, the pope's criticism has intensified in these months. He has repeated his implicit criticism of Trump's focus on the border wall. He, at one point, urged Catholics, quote, "to not raise walls but bridges" - going back to that obsession that he has with bridges.

And then he went on to say a Christian can never say I'll make you pay for that. That sounded to me like it was aimed squarely at Trump. He's also been highly critical of what he calls xenophobia and the nationalistic populist message that is reverberating in Europe as well as in the U.S. And, of course, that message is very much associated with Donald Trump.

MARTIN: Did the two have other disagreements apart from these issues?

GJELTEN: Yeah. I mean, the pope is very outspoken, again, in favor of action to alleviate climate change. He put out two years ago a very important environment encyclical in which he said that humans are responsible for global warming and need to take action. He also is, again, a very outspoken critic of the death penalty, and he says that governments need to help the poor. So there are a lot of ideological differences between these two people. But I would go back to say that the biggest difference is one of style, the humility of Pope Francis versus the - sort of the egotism and extravagance of Donald Trump.

MARTIN: Well, we've talked about where the two have clashed. Are there areas in which they have common ground?

GJELTEN: Well, Michel, President Trump has staked out a pretty strong anti-abortion position. That's going to resonate with Catholic leaders. But here's one interesting thing that they have in common. Pope Francis and President Trump both value personal relationships. Trump has always talked about how important in dealing with foreign leaders, how important it is to establish a good personal relationship very close to what Pope Francis says, so they may both really want to emphasize their development of a personal relationship.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten. He reports on religion and belief. Tom, thanks so much.

GJELTEN: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.