Vera Shcherbakova – on the visit to the Holy See by the heads of the USA and India, as well as on the possible visit of Francis to North Korea
US President Joe Biden began his visit to Italy in connection with his participation in the G20 summit with a visit to the Vatican and a meeting with Pope Francis. This was their fourth meeting, but the first since Biden was elected president. He is the second after John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) American Catholic leader. And, as it turned out, Biden and the pontiff had something to talk about. The private conversation lasted a record 1 hour and 15 minutes. For comparison: Francis talked with Barack Obama for 50 minutes, and with Donald Trump during their only meeting in May 2017 – barely half an hour.
Francis undoubtedly has much more common ground with Democrat Biden than with his predecessor. About Trump, without calling him by name, the pontiff said that he could not consider himself a “good Christian.” This papal commentary was linked to the condemnation of those building the walls, just after Trump announced his intention to stop the flow of migrants from Mexico by erecting a fence on the border. By the time of the meeting with the Pope, Trump also announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty, and then many believed that Francis would try to convince the American leader not to do this. The results are known, America has scandalously withdrawn from the agreement. And she returned just now, with Biden.
On the topics of environmental protection, climate change, and migration, the positions of the current American administration are much closer to those of the Vatican. “During the conversation, the parties emphasized common efforts to protect the planet, strengthen sanitary security and combat the pandemic, and also discussed the problem of refugees and assistance to migrants. The topics of protection of human rights, freedom of religion and thought were also discussed. The issues of the international agenda were discussed, including including in the context of the G20 summit starting in Rome, as well as promoting peace through political dialogue, “the Holy See’s press service said in an official statement.
As it became known to reporters, during the greeting, Biden told Francis that he was the greatest peace fighter he had ever known. The American side later revealed many important and revealing details through the White House press service.
So, the meeting bore a very personal connotation – almost a shepherd and a parishioner. Francis sincerely empathized with Biden’s adversity, including the death of his son from cancer in 2015. The American president presented the pontiff with a symbolic gift – a coin depicting the emblem of the 261st National Guard Brigade, in which Bo Biden served. “I know that my son would like me to hand it over to you,” the president said, adding that, according to American tradition, “the president gives a commander’s coin to soldiers and leaders.” And then he joked that according to tradition, if at the next meeting the presented coin is not there, then Francis will have to treat him with a glass. “But I’m the only Irishman (on my mother’s side) who has never drunk,” Biden added.
Of course, there were no value judgments on the part of the Vatican. But Biden shared extremely enthusiastic impressions. “It was an honor for me to see Pope Francis again at the Vatican. His compassion and protection of the poor, all who suffer from hunger, conflict and persecution, is a guiding star in the world. His example serves all of us all our lives every day,” wrote Biden on Twitter. Then at a press conference at the end of the G20 summit, Biden returned to meeting with the Pope and admitted that he draws “great comfort” from his relationship with him. “He’s a really good person, without pretense,” Biden said. “This is a man who seeks to ensure peace, decency and honor, not only in the Catholic Church, but in general [on the planet]. He personifies everything, what I learned about Catholicism as a kid entering high school. But he’s just a wonderful, honest and noble person, “Biden added.
Papal blessing and an open question
The American president also shared that Francis called him a good Catholic and asked him not to stop receiving communion. Earlier, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States called for the creation of a project regulating the issues of the sacrament of Catholics – the initiative could lead to the fact that American politicians advocating free choice in the issue of abortion, and among them Biden, will be excommunicated from participation in the most important sacrament of the church. Nevertheless, as such, the topic of abortion was not touched upon at the meeting with the Pope, Biden said. But he said that they prayed together “for peace.”
Pope Francis, once returning from a trip to Slovakia, clarified to reporters that he had never excommunicated anyone himself. “I have never refused the Eucharist. Communion is not a prize, it is a gift, a sign of the presence of Christ, and only those who are not involved in it cannot receive it,” Francis said. At the same time, of course, the position of the church regarding abortion is unambiguous, and Francis tirelessly repeats it: “Abortion is murder.”
Despite the favorable atmosphere of the meeting and the impression of complete mutual understanding and iridescence, there remain acute questions in the relations between the Vatican and the United States (traditionally good ones). And they, apparently, were not deliberately touched upon. This primarily concerns China. The Holy See made it clear that it does not intend to abandon the rapprochement that had begun with Beijing, with which an agreement was signed several years ago on the confirmation of bishops by the Pope. Previously, they were appointed by the so-called patriotic Catholic Church in China without the consent of the Holy See. The document was recently extended.
At the same time, the position of the new American administration with respect to Beijing has not undergone any changes in comparison with the previous one, but the tone has changed slightly. And if the Trump administration, through the mouth of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, tried to openly put pressure on the Vatican on the “Chinese issue”, almost accusing it of supporting a repressive regime to the detriment of the interests of protecting human rights, then the current one seems to prefer not to interfere. In any case, do not do it publicly, since the assertiveness of the predecessors did not cause anything other than the completely obvious and undisguised irritation of the Holy See.
The same enemies
Of course, the current American president is much more to Francis’ taste. But America is not only its leader, but also influential lobbies. Among Vatican experts, there is a fairly widespread opinion that a targeted campaign is underway against Francis, who is not pleasing to certain American elites for his statements denouncing the modern economy. The current pontiff, who is often called a Marxist or even a communist (he himself always rejected such definitions), is not satisfied with his calls for the creation of a more just and equal world, renouncing luxury (which he demonstrates by his own example). Particularly disliked by his strong condemnation of the arms trade, known to be one of the most lucrative businesses that fuels world conflicts.
The most hostile anti-Pope wing is represented by the most conservative Catholic hierarchs in the United States. From time to time they issue sharp criticism, if not outright condemnation of the head of the Roman Catholic Church. According to experts, for this they are looking for vulnerabilities and use the painful issue of pedophilia among priests against the Pope. In intra-Vatican circles, it is believed that the US hierarchs are trying to shift responsibility for crimes of a sexual nature in the bosom of the church onto Francis, thus hiding their own problems and crisis in society.
Another argument for criticism is the Pope’s restrained and Christian paternal attitude towards people of non-traditional sexual orientation. Francis, with the help of the most liberal media, is credited with almost recognizing same-sex marriage. Although he is unshakable in this: marriage is a church sacrament between a man and a woman. “The Lord loves everyone, but don’t expect the church to abandon his legacy,” Francis said. Moreover, the same ones who are looking for reasons to attack the Pope offer to excommunicate Biden from the sacrament.
Not only Biden
During the days of the “twenty” in Rome, the Pope was visited by another leader, whose visit did not attract the same media attention, although it was, perhaps, even more remarkable. The conversation between Francis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who first met with the head of the Roman Catholic Church, lasted for about an hour. The last Indian leader to visit the Vatican was the late Prime Minister Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Vatican’s communique on the meeting was remarkably (and surprisingly) scarce. While the Indian side reported that Modi conveyed to the Pope an invitation to visit the country, where almost 30 million Christians live, making up the second largest Catholic community in Asia. Francis earlier spoke of his desire to visit India, where John Paul II visited twice: in 1986 and 1999. Such a possibility was even considered in 2017, but in the end, during the Asian tour, Francis visited only Myanmar and Bangladesh. It was assumed that Modi made an effort to keep India out of the route then. It is believed that the Indian leader is not very sympathetic towards Christian and Muslim minorities.
Francis also received confirmation of the invitation from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had previously conveyed to the pontiff Kim Jong-un’s verbal invitation to come to Pyongyang. The Holy See shares the view that a possible trip for the Pope to the north of the Korean Peninsula would be an important contribution to the process of reconciliation and disarmament in Korea.
No dates of possible trips are indicated. As Francis himself explained, the decision about any visit “matures in prayer and meditation.”