VATICAN CITY — Oh, to be a fly on the wall. When Pope Francis meets with President Donald Trump at the Vatican at the end of this month, the world will be watching how the Argentine “slum pope” interacts with the brash, New York billionaire-turned-president.
On many issues and priorities, the two men couldn’t be more different. Francis wants bridges between nations, not the walls Trump is building. Francis brought back a dozen Muslim Syrian refugees with him when he went to Greece last year, while Trump has tried to impose a travel ban on people from a half-dozen mostly Muslim nations.
The pope sleeps in a two-room hotel suite. Trump lived in a skyscraper with his name on it before being elected. Francis wants to end the use of fossil fuels, while Trump has pledged to cancel payments to U.N. climate change programs and pull out of the Paris climate accord. U.S. bishops have praised the Trump administration for its anti-abortion stance, but have opposed Republican health care plans because of their impact on the poor.
Those issues and more are likely on the table when Trump arrives May 24 at the Apostolic Palace in Rome for the 8:30 a.m. audience that was announced Thursday. Despite their obvious differences, Trump and Francis share a populist bent. Both were elected on reform mandates and speak with a simplicity that has endeared them to their bases. And both share a common concern about the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic militants.
“They’re both populists, but populists of a different kind,” said Mathew Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. While agreeing they are both concerned about Islamic extremism, he said they differ in approaches and vision.