US President Joe Biden shared some comical relief with Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican today as he joked that he was «the only Irishman I’ve ever met who never drank».
After face-to-face meetings with the Pope where they discussed serious issues such as climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Biden took some time joking with Pope Francis, saying «Next time I see you, you should buy drinks.»
The Pope responded, through an interpreter, by referring to Irish whiskey.
The president had lengthy and very personal conversations with Pope Francis on Friday and came out saying the Pope had told him he was a «good Catholic» and should continue to receive the Eucharist, despite demands by conservatives that he be denied the Eucharist because of his support for him. Abortion rights.
“I am the only Irish man I have ever met who has never drunk” … US President Joe Biden jokes with Pope Francis. In turn, the Holy Father points to a bottle of whiskey! Hey Ireland. 🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/rsS2shwNVF
– Colm Flynn (@colmflynnire) October 29 2021
The world’s two most prominent Roman Catholics ran over time in their discussions of climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic, a warm conversation that also touched on the loss of the president’s adult son and included jokes about good old age.
Biden said abortion was not brought up at the meeting. «We just talked about the fact that he was glad I was a good Catholic and should continue to receive the Eucharist,» Biden said.
A video released by the Vatican showed several warm and cozy moments between Francis and Biden as they shook hands and smiled over and over again. Francis often appears bleak, especially in official photos, but he looked in good spirits on Friday. The special session lasted about 75 minutes, according to the Vatican, more than twice the usual length of the audience with the Pope,
The couple sat opposite each other at a desk in the papal library, accompanied by an interpreter. They then proceeded to an exchange of gifts and a broader meeting involving the First Lady and senior officials.
«There may be people on both sides of the Channel who think they have an interest in fostering dissonance in some way between the United Kingdom and France, and promoting the impression of dissonance,» he said. «I don’t think Emmanuel ever shares that perspective personally. I’ll make that point.»
The White House said: «Biden thanked His Holiness for standing up for the world’s poor and those who suffer from hunger, conflict and oppression.» «He commended Pope Francis for his leadership in the fight against the climate crisis, as well as his call to ensure an end to the pandemic for all through the sharing of vaccines and an equitable global economic recovery.»
Biden takes pride in his Catholic faith, and uses it as a moral guide to shape his social and economic policies. He wears a rosary and attends the weekly mass.
Dozens of Swiss Guards in their blue and gold-striped uniforms and red-embroidered halberds stood in the San Damaso courtyard when Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived. They were greeted by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household, and then they were greeted one by one, or papal gentlemen, who lined up in the courtyard.
«It’s good to be back,» Biden said, shaking someone’s hand. “I am the husband of a generation,” he told another before he entered the frescoed Apostolic Palace and was taken to the Pope’s private library upstairs.
The personal coin depicts Biden’s home state of Delaware and a reference to the military unit of his late son Beau, the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. Biden told Francis that Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, wanted him to present the coin to the Pope.
«Tradition is, and I’m just joking about this, but next time I see you, if you don’t have it, buy drinks,» Biden said, referring to the coin. «I am the only Irishman I have ever met who has never drunk,» he added.
Francis laughed and replied, «The Irish brought whiskey.»
Biden, 78, also relayed the story of American baseball player Satchel Page, a black bowler who played in his late fifties, in an anecdote about old age. Biden quoted Biden as saying, «How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?» Laughter.
The Vatican said that Francis presented Biden with a ceramic tile depicting the iconostasis of the pilgrim, as well as a set of key educational documents for the Pope. In the Vatican video, he can be heard asking Jill Biden to «pray for me.»
The warm encounter was in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s 2017 meeting with Francis, with whom the former president had a thorny relationship. Pictures from that 30-minute meeting showed the stone-faced Francis standing next to smiling Trump. Biden’s meeting was also longer than the 52 minutes Barack Obama spent with Francis in 2014.
Biden is visiting Rome and then Glasgow for successive summits, first gathering leaders of the Group of Twenty and developing countries and then the World Climate Conference.
Biden and Francis have met three times before, but Friday’s meeting was their first since Biden became president.
Biden also met separately Friday with the hosts of the G20 summit, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He ended the day with French President Emmanuel Macron, in a fresh attempt to cool relations after the US and UK decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, leading to the signing of a lucrative French contract in the process.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis sparked some controversy in advance as the Vatican on Thursday abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live and block access to the independent press. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised TV plan reflects virus protocol for all heads of state, although he did not say why more robust live TV coverage would be scheduled and then canceled.
Instead, the Vatican provided edited footage of the encounter to authorized media outlets.
A Vatican spokesman declined to comment on Biden’s comments on the Communion, noting that the Vatican does not comment on the Pope’s private conversations other than what is written in the official statement, which did not refer to the issue.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement after the Vatican meeting that did not address Biden’s remark about Communion. Instead, the statement suggested that the president would not be singled out in any document emerging from next month’s bishops meeting.
The statement said that the document «aims to speak of the beauty of meeting Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and is addressed to all Catholics.»
Francis emphasized that he would not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, although Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose whether to prevent people from taking Communion.
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