Not everyone was pleased when Pope Francis decided to settle his hotel bill in person the day after his election. “I don’t like seeing the Pope standing at the checkout counter [front desk] of a hotel in order to pay his bill,” one hotel magnate tweeted. “It’s not Pope-like!” But a few months later, this critic had warmed to the Holy Father. “The new Pope is a humble man,” he concluded, “very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!”
Many would dispute Donald Trump’s claim that Pope Francis is “very much” like him. They differ on immigration, climate change, capitalism, nuclear weapons, military spending, the United Nations, US-Cuba relations and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – not to mention religious matters. Their positions contrast so sharply that both the New Yorker and the New York Times have dubbed Francis “the anti-Trump”. Many predict that, if the two men meet face to face next month as rumoured, there will be ructions.
Those who have anointed Francis as the global leader of the anti-Trump “resistance” point to the Pope’s comments at the end of his trip to America last year. Asked about Trump’s promise to build a border wall with Mexico, he famously replied: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Many (including Trump himself) took this as a rare papal condemnation of a political candidate. The Vatican press office tried, fruitlessly, to persuade the media otherwise.
But it’s notable that, apart from this exchange, there have been no direct clashes so far between the Pope and the US President. True, two new US cardinals personally selected by Pope Francis – Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark – are emerging as pungent critics of the Trump administration, particularly on migrants. But given their strong personalities, they are more likely to be following their own instincts than Vatican orders.
Given the scarce evidence that the Pope wants to be the face of the anti-Trump movement, some have suggested, mischievously, that the two leaders are in fact surprisingly similar. Both, they say, are energetic populists with huge social media followings, a disregard for convention and a gift for memorable overstatement. But such comparisons are easily pushed too far.
If they do meet in May, when Trump travels to the G7 summit in Sicily, the two men will probably focus on areas of common interest, such as the protection of persecuted Christians, the war in Syria and the global battle against abortion. If his recent meetings with world leaders are anything to go by, the President is likely to be reserved, respectful and even deferential in the Pope’s presence. If Francis ventures into areas of disagreement, Trump is unlikely to turn into the angry, amped-up figure familiar from the campaign trail.
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