It took a while, but President Trump eventually coaxed a smile out of Pope Francis as the two polar opposites met for the first time at the Vatican Wednesday. Who could blame the pontiff for initially withholding the winning grin that has captivated much of the world since he assumed the papacy in 2013.
The two men – both of whom stunned the world by their rise to the pinnacle of power – could not be more different in their core beliefs, nor similar in their unpredictability.
The president wants to strengthen America’s borders by building a wall with Mexico; Francis has made helpless, homeless migrants his priority, and says anyone who erects barriers between people cannot be a Christian.
In one important respect Trump and the pope share a deep bond: each has disdain, if not outright disgust, for the traditions of his office.
America’s CEO has pledged to put America first and rescind trade deals that don’t benefit the U.S.; the Vicar of Christ believes the most powerful nations, especially the United States, should do more to help poorer ones.
Trump has vowed to rebuild the military; the pope thinks the use of armed force is inherently immoral.
Trump was, until he became president, the poster child for self-made wealth and affluent living; Francis has called on rich people to give away their fortunes in order to attain salvation.
In one important respect, however, Trump and the pope share a deep bond: each has disdain, if not outright disgust, for the traditions of his office.
Trump has shocked official Washington with his ill-thought-out statements, his indifference to accuracy, and his savage assessment of the working press. He has managed to weld together Democrats, some Republicans, liberals and nearly all the Beltway media into a coalition dedicated to his downfall.
Francis, too, signaled instantly after his 2013 elevation to the Throne of Peter that he was a different, perhaps radical leader. He refused to move into the papal residence, made his own phone calls, expressed doubt about the Church’s centuries-old disapproval of homosexuality, rebuked, and in some cases, removed cardinals and bishops who challenged his unorthodox views. Alarmed, a few conservative members of the curia have put up resistance, bolstered by harrumphing in right-wing Catholic publications that fear Francis is going too far, too fast.
As a result of their separate eccentricities, both men deal with a constantly swirling whirlpool of rumors, resentment, rebellion and malicious leaks around them.
Trump tweets his smallest thoughts and resentments like a recluse in a dark room. Francis tosses aside Church magisterium like yesterday’s newspaper. In so doing, each has shaken the foundations of the institution he was elected to preserve, while also inspiring legions of rabid supporters starved for what they view as long-overdue change.
Advance delegations worked overtime to ensure the summit would go smoothly, and initial indications are that it did. The two men had little trouble agreeing, for instance, that Christians in the Middle East needed to be protected from persecution. Whether they found any common ground on the rights of refugees and immigrants might take a while to find out.
Trump looked happy enough after his audience with the pope, calling it the honor of a lifetime. Of course, the president has been known to roll back big declarations in the past. And it remains to be seen if his good humor survives his return this weekend to Washington, where he will face a less decorous reception from his political opponents.
John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."