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Pope Francis \ Activities

Pope and U.S. President: vital role of soft power diplomacy

Italian police cordon off areas around the Vatican ahead of the meeting between Pope Francis and U.S. President Trump on Wednesday morning - AP

Italian police cordon off areas around the Vatican ahead of the meeting between Pope Francis and U.S. President Trump on Wednesday morning - AP

23/05/2017 16:58

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday morning meets with U.S. leader Donald Trump, the third leg of a presidential tour that has already taken him to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine.

Commenting on the highly anticipated meeting, the Pope said recently that it was important to “to talk about things we have in common and go forward, step by step".

Following the papal audience, Trump will meet with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, together with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States or foreign minister.

The president and his wife Melania will then be given a tour of St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, after which the first lady will also visit Rome’s Bambin Gesù Children’s Hospital.

The U.S. has enjoyed full diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1984 under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. To find out more about the issues at stake today for that diplomatic relationship, Philippa Hitchen spoke to Massimo Faggioli, author and professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University in the United States.

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Professor Faggioli says the meeting is a very important acknowledgement on both sides of “a certain pragmatism” that has a role in diplomacy and international relations. The White House, he says, has much more to learn from this meeting than the Vatican, which is “more informed about the White house and the US, than vice versa”.

Among the lessons that he believes the U.S. administration can learn from the encounter is firstly, the way that “anti-immigrants language in American history” has been, for the past century at least, “an anti-Catholic language”.

Secondly, he says the president can learn how different the Catholic Church is from the Evangelical Churches, with different pastors wielding various degrees of influence.

Importance of soft power diplomacy

The third important lesson he points to is the fact that “there is a soft power in international relations that is very important because not all issues can be solved with hard power”.Professor Faggioli also notes that President Trump may receive input from his daughter and other family members who will meet with the St Egidio community, and visit the children’s hospital.  

He says the visit is the signal that “there is a fundamental trust between two global entities that will not be undermined by the last 16 or 17 months of tense relations”.

Searching for a common narrative

Among the issues that may feature high on the agenda, he says the two leaders are likely to discuss peace, “especially in areas of crisis”, but also the issue of migrants and refugees “because the Catholic Church knows there are crises that cannot be walled out”. Others questions that may feature during the conversation, he adds, are the persecution of Christians, as well as climate change and the environment.

After the encounter, he says it will be interesting to see what statements will emerge and whether there will be “a common narrative, or if there will be partisan narratives, especially within American Catholics where you have quite different takes about Pope Francis”.

23/05/2017 16:58