President Joe Biden (L) greets Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican in Rome on Friday. Photo by Vatican Media/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 29 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden and Pope Francis met at the Vatican on Friday for their first official meeting and to address several issues, including climate change, COVID-19 and the disadvantaged -- ahead of two key summits in the coming days.
Friday's was Biden's first meeting with the pope since becoming president. The two met in 2015 while Biden was vice president and the two exchanged a greeting during a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine a year later.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived at the Vatican late Friday morning for the meeting, which is just the second between a Catholic U.S. president and the head of the Catholic Church. The first occurred between President John F. Kennedy and Pope Paul VI in 1963.
Francis and Biden met for the first time during the pontiff's inauguration after he replaced Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013.
The first couple were greeted at the Vatican Friday by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, head of the Papal Household, then went down a receiving line of about a half-dozen Papal Gentlemen to greet them. Biden and the pontiff began their meeting at about noon, the White House said.
Also in attendance at the meeting were U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Biden's top Vatican diplomat Patrick Connell.
"President Biden thanked his holiness for his advocacy for the world's poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution," the White House said in a statement. "He lauded Pope Francis' leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone through vaccine sharing and an equitable global economic recovery."
Biden told reporters that he and the pope prayed for peace, and that topic of abortion was never raised during the meeting.
"No it [wasn't]," he told reporters. "We just talked about the fact that he was happy I was a good Catholic."
Biden's meeting with the pope was initially supposed to be broadcast live, but the Vatican abruptly canceled that plan on Thursday. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the change was standard protocol for visiting heads of state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The broadcast was supposed to cover the two meeting in the Throne Room and then sitting down to begin their talks. The White House didn't address the canceled broadcast.
The private meeting between Biden and Francis lasted for about 90 minutes before the others participated in expanded talks. A short time later, Biden and other White House officials attended a bilateral meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
"The leaders discussed efforts to rally global support for vaccinating the developing world against COVID-19," the White House said of the meeting with Parolin. "[He] thanked the Vatican for speaking out on behalf of the wrongfully detained, including in Venezuela and Cuba. The leaders committed to continue using their voices to advocate for personal and religious freedoms worldwide."
In remarks to BBC Radio Friday, Pope Francis said the pandemic and climate crisis provide a chance for countries and their leaders to come together.
"Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed our deep vulnerability and raised numerous doubts and concerns about our economic systems and the way we organize our societies," he said.
"Every crisis calls for vision, the ability to formulate plans and put them rapidly into action, to rethink the future of the world, our common home, and to reassess our common purpose."
After meeting with the pope, Biden attended bilateral meetings with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi at Chigi Palace and Italian President Sergio Mattarella at Quirinale Palace. He was scheduled to meet later with French President Emmanuel Macron at the French Embassy in Rome.
All three meetings come ahead of the G20 Leaders Summit that will begin in Rome on Saturday, and the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which begins on Sunday in Scotland and runs for several days.
Pope Francis was also scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday.