Dialogue, Disagreement, or Both?
May 24, 2017
“The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!” Donald Trump crowed from his favorite podium, Twitter, in December of 2013. Although Trump appeared delighted to have found a kindred spirit in Pope Francis, I think most people would be hard-pressed to come up with any realistic similarities between our 45th president and Pope Francis. Our president, as we all know, is many things, but humble he is not. Even President Trump’s most ardent supporters probably wouldn’t list ‘modesty’ as one of his defining characteristics. The world was given its chance to compare the two men side-by-side as earlier this morning President Trump met with Pope Francis at the Vatican as part of his first foreign tour as president.
In fact, Pope Francis and Donald Trump seem like they could not be more opposite from one another. Besides the fact that they hold two of the world’s most influential titles, what could these two possibly have in common? They disagree on several important political and social issues, including but not limited to, immigration, healthcare, and climate change.
Did the president’s characteristic bravado and arrogance shine through this morning? Was the man who once said “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’ ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” humbled at all in the presence of the pontiff?
As a Catholic and as someone who deeply admires Pope Francis, part of me wonders what could possibly be gained from this meeting. Will anything Pope Francis said to Donald Trump have any impact? We have seen time and time again that Trump dismisses anyone and anything that counters his warped ideologies. Maybe I’m coming across as too judgmental. Perhaps my resentment and anger towards the new president only contributes to the very divisiveness I seek to reject. My heart feels dried up and I am doubtful the meeting at the Vatican will have any true effect on Trump. However, maybe the lesson Pope Francis offers us is patience and a reminder to extend openness and respect to those with whom we have fundamental differences. This could be the Holy Spirit guiding us to call those neighbors we’ve come to verbal blows on Facebook with. Maybe now is the time to reach out to those relatives we could barely speak to at Easter and say “I’m sorry. Can we start over?”
As we, the American people, watch our current president maneuver the weight and responsibility of the position for which he so mercilessly fought for, I am struck by this sentence from the Pope’s 2015 address to the United States Congress, “To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.” Was this sentiment echoing in Pope Francis’ own mind this morning when he met with President Trump? Did he privately lament the kind of culture, seemingly lacking in empathy and compassion, our country has fostered in order for such a man to rise to power? I wonder if the Pope saw a tyrant sitting across from him this morning, or just a man desperately in need of redemption.