In the much-anticipated meeting between the head of the free world and the head of the Catholic Church, President Trump and Pope Francis met on Wednesday morning and exchanged gifts at the Vatican. Francis gave Trump his usual gifts to heads of state, signed copies of Amoris Laetitia, Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si'. Interestingly, Trump gifted Pope Francis with Martin Luther King's writings Stride Toward Freedom (1958), The Measure of Man (1959), The Strength to Love (1963), Why We Can't Wait (1964) and Where do We Go From Here (1967).
It's no surprise he chose these writings. Trump has expressed admiration for the activism and work of Alveda King, niece of Dr. King and director of Civil Rights for the Unborn at Priests for Life. In fact, he gifted her with one of the two pens he used at the May 4 ceremony in the Rose Garden in which he issued an executive order protecting groups like Priests for Life from government infringements on our religious freedom. The president referred to Dr. King in that ceremony.
Francis is also something of a King disciple: The pontiff also referenced Dr. King when visiting the United States and speaking to Congress. Despite any disagreements they may have, both unconventional men have more in common than the media credits them. They both have tapped into the pulse of people who feel marginalized and lost in a system of bureaucracy both clerical and governmental.
In a March 2013 address to priests, Pope Francis urged them to get deeply immersed with the people they serve in order to be effective shepherds. "This is what I am asking you: Be shepherds with the smell of sheep." The exhortation is clear; Francis believes one cannot shepherd the church by getting lost in bureaucracy. He has shown his ordinariness by dressing modestly and refusing some of the pomp that goes with his office. His vibe has been one of approachability and lending an ear to the people. This has been Trump's as well.
As we witnessed during the elections, Trump was a candidate of the people. We saw a man who won by connecting with constituents and rallying against the status quo and corruption in the government. It's no secret that Trump speaks the local dialect. He says plainly what Americans are thinking; he insists that the government belongs to them, and not to the politicians. This was pivotal in a nation that feels gagged by the PC police. In Trump, America hears a voice that pushes against the machine.
Former President Barack Obama's America was part of that machine. His administration stepped on religious freedom and attempted to coerce religious organizations to go against their consciences, such as with the Obamacare mandate forcing employers to provide contraception coverage. The Obama administration concerned itself with tolerance of a few at the sacrifice of the freedom of many. After eight years of feeling gagged, Americans wanted to be liberated to practice and profess our faith free of political correctness and government infringement. Both religious freedom and freedom of speech are roads where Trump and Francis meet.
As Evangelist Alveda King in reference to Wednesday's visit, "In the midst of all of the ‘fake news' Trump has delivered something real again with this MLK book gift; the six principles and steps to nonviolent conflict resolution espoused by my Uncle Rev. MLK are always good for America and the world. "
These men also affirmed their mutual priority in favor of protecting the most vulnerable human lives, the children in the womb. The Holy See press office reported, "During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience."
There is more going on here than simply a common affirmation of the quest for peace. There is, more deeply, a common affirmation that the flourishing of authentic worship of God is essential in our day, not only for the survival of religions, but for the survival of humanity. Both the president and the pope have raised their voices against the abuse of religion, against the infliction of violence under the cloak of godliness, and against using God's name to justify something God abhors.
It is no accident, therefore, that the President's first international trip, marked by his advocacy for peace, brought him to the key religious centers of the world. Religions must lead the way for peace, and that starts with advocating for the sanctity of life. In meeting today with the pope, the president certainly found someone who says "Amen" to that.
Father Frank Pavone (@frfrankpavone) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the national director of Priests for Life.
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