VATICAN CITY (AP) — Declaring it’s “good to be back,” President Joe Biden opened a five-day European trip Friday with an extended visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican, where the world’s two most prominent Roman Catholics ran overtime in talks expected to cover the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, poverty and more.
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 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.
“It’s good to be back,” Biden said as he shook the hand of one of them. “I’m Jill’s husband,” he said to another before he was ushered into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the pope’s private library.
Biden’s private meeting with the pope lasted about 75 minutes, according to the Vatican, 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. The lengthy session put Biden behind schedule for his meetings later Friday.
According to the Vatican, Biden presented Francis a woven chasuble, or liturgical vestment, made in 1930 by the famed papal tailor Gamarelli and used by the pope’s Jesuit order in the U.S., where it was held in the archives of Holy Trinity Church, Biden’s regular parish in Washington.
Holy Trinity is steeped in American history and played a role in advocating for abolition, desegregation and civil rights since it was founded in 1787. President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic U.S. president, also worshipped there.
In addition, the White House said it would make a donation to charity in the pope’s name.
Francis gave Biden a ceramic tile depicting the iconography of the pilgrim, as well as a collection of the pope’s main teaching documents, the Vatican said.
Biden takes pride in his Catholic faith, using it as moral guidepost to shape many of his social and economic policies. Biden wears a rosary and frequently attends Mass, yet his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage has put him at odds with many U.S. bishops, some of whom have suggested he should be denied Communion.
No live pictures or video of the meeting were provided due to last-minute Vatican restrictions on press access. A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting, described laughter and a clear rapport between Biden and the pope when the larger delegation entered the room.
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