President Joe Biden and Pope Francis engaged in extended talks on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic Friday as the world’s two most prominent Roman Catholics ran overtime in highly personal discussions that also touched on the loss of president’s adult son and jokes about aging well.
Video released by the Vatican showed several warm, relaxed moments between Francis and Biden as they repeatedly shook hands and smiled. Francis often sports a dour look, especially in official photos, but he seemed in good spirits Friday. Their private meeting lasted about 75 minutes, according to the Vatican, an unusually long time for an audience with the pontiff.
The pair sat across from one another at a desk in the papal library, accompanied by a translator. They then proceeded to an exchange of gifts and a broader meeting including the first lady and top officials. The lengthy session put Biden more than an hour behind schedule for his later meetings.
“Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution,” the White House said. “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.”
A dozen Swiss Guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red-plumed halberds stood at attention in the San Damaso courtyard as Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived. 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.
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. The White House said it would make a donation to charity in the pope’s name.
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.
Biden also presented the pope with what’s known as a challenge coin, passing it to the pope in the palm of his hand as they shared a handshake, hailing Francis as “the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met.”
Biden described his personalized coin features to the pope. It includes a depiction of Biden’s home state of Delaware and a reference to his late son Beau’s military unit, the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. Biden told Francis that Beau would have wanted him to present it to the pope.