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President Trump Arrives In Rome To Meet With Pope Francis

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump has arrived in Rome, and tomorrow, he'll meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican, putting the two outspoken men face to face for the first time. They disagree strongly on some of the most important issues of the day. And it's gotten personal. During the campaign, Pope Francis attacked Trump for his proposal to build a wall with Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Spanish).

SHAPIRO: "A person who only thinks about making walls, wherever it may be, and not building bridges is not a Christian," the pope said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He actually said that maybe I'm not a good Christian or something. It's unbelievable.

SHAPIRO: Trump went on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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.

SHAPIRO: And now Donald Trump is president. John Allen is editor of the Catholic media outlet Crux. He joins us from Rome. Welcome back.

JOHN ALLEN: Glad to be with you.

SHAPIRO: So these two polar opposites are going to meet tomorrow. Set the stage for us. How do you expect it to go?

ALLEN: Well, this really is an odd-couple dynamic, isn't it? You know, with Pope Francis and President Donald Trump, you have, in some ways, two of the most riveting but also two of the most contrasting personalities on the global stage - Francis very much the Third World man of the people, President Trump sort of the icon of American swagger and bombast.

But, you know, I think this is likely to be a very friendly meeting because both sides have strong incentives to make it friendly. The Vatican wants to be a significant player on the global stage as the world's most important voice of conscience, the most important soft power. And they know, to have any kind of diplomatic role in the world, they need to have good relations with the United States.

Meanwhile, President Trump needs good news. He also knows that religious voters and Catholics in particular were key to his election victory in November. And if he ever wants to get re-elected, they will be key to that as well.

So despite the differences that you mentioned, which are very real on a laundry list of issues, I suspect that both sides are going to work hard to do what Pope Francis said recently, is to find the doors that are not yet closed.

SHAPIRO: This laundry list of issues you mentioned includes poverty, refugees and more. Do you think they'll actually try to hash out some of these differences or just paper over them and have a nice photo op?

ALLEN: Well, bear in mind the meeting with the pope is going to be quite brief. It's taking place at 8:30 in the morning in Rome. By about 9 o'clock, Francis actually has to be out of there because he has to start his swing through St. Peter's Square for his weekly audience on Wednesdays.

But whenever a head of state comes to the Vatican, there are actually two meetings. One is with the pope. The other is with the cardinal secretary of state, in effect, the Vatican's top diplomat, and the archbishop who is the Vatican's foreign minister. That is often a more substantive meeting. And there is sometimes a kind of good-cop, bad-cop dynamic built into this. So I think before Trump leaves the Vatican, I would be stunned if some of the issues you mentioned are not put in front of him.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, President Trump nominated Callista Gingrich last week to be ambassador to the Vatican. She's, of course, the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a strong defender of President Trump. Gingrich carried on an affair with her for several years while he was still married to another woman. And that relationship was troubling to some conservative Catholics. Do you think that history comes into play here? What kind of weight would she actually have in this position?

ALLEN: Well, I think the personal history of the Gingrich family certainly will be an issue for some Catholics. But from the Vatican's point of view, what they care about is how much influence is this ambassador going to have in the administration? And, you know, because Newt was a major Trump ally, I think the perception would be that she may be a figure in this administration who can make things happen. That certainly would be the Vatican's hope. But I think there would be cautious optimism from this side of the Atlantic about how influential a figure she might be.

SHAPIRO: That's John Allen, editor of the Catholic publication Crux. Thank you very much.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BAD PLUS'S "I WANT TO FEEL GOOD, PT. 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.