It was a long morning for hundreds of onlookers in and around Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square when they found out that U.S. President Biden was arriving for a meeting with Pope Francis. Visitors to the Vatican had to remain in the area of the right hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square as the left hand colonnade area was reserved for the presidential motorcade as well as for several dozen of those cars that did not enter Vatican City. Curious visitors also lined Via della Conciliazione and streets adjacent to St. Peter’s Square.
I did not see the arrival at 11:50am but had walked down Via di Porta Cavalleggeri to the area of the left hand colonnade to wait for the departure. The visit with the Pope lasted for 75 minutes, after which Biden was set to meet Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States. As time went on and the Vatican meetings seemed to go beyond expectations, I stopped by Homebaked, just yards away from the transit site, for a sandwich and coffee.
By 2:40pm, I knew I had to come back to the office to work on my radio show, Vatican Insider and this column. Ten minutes later the motorcade left Vatican City! President Biden had other political appointments on his agenda in the afternoon, including of course the president and prime minister of Italy as well as French president Macron. He is in Rome for the weekend meeting of the G20 leaders. After that he will go to Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 meeting on climate change.
My take on the long and short of his visit: The long was the motorcade of over 50 cars and the short was the Vatican statement on the longest meeting ever between a Pope and a U.S. president: English-language Vatican statement on the visit by the president of Korea to the Vatican was 136 words long: the statement on Biden was 111 words.
Photos by EWTN’s Daniele Ibanez:
President and Pope spoke privately for 75 minutes, the longest a Pope has ever spoken to a US president. The Biden team spent a total of 3 hours in Vatican City. The motorcade arrived at 11:50am and left at 2:50 pm. Here is the brief, 111-word Vatican statement on that encounter:
This morning, Friday October 29, 2021, His Excellency Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States of America, was received in audience by the Holy Father Francis and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States. During the course of the cordial discussions, the Parties focused on the joint commitment to the protection and care of the planet, the healthcare situation and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the theme of refugees and assistance to migrants. Reference was also made to the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and conscience.
Vaticannews.va carried the story on many of its language pages. The Italian-language page had an excellent account of the president’s visit to the Vatican (presented and translated below). The photo is Vatican media. A small contingent of print and electronic media and photographers had been allowed to cover the president’s arrival and departure in the San Damaso courtyard but no live coverage was allowed by the Vatican afterwards. The Vatican released its own selection of photos and video images.
PRESIDENT BIDEN AT THE VATICAN
As his car pulled into the San Damaso courtyard, Biden waited for a few seconds in the car. At the last toll of the bell at 12 the car door was opened and he exited with his wife Jill, in a dark blue suit and with a black veil on her head. Both were welcomed by the regent of the Papal Household, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza. “Thank you very much, it’s nice to be back,” said the head of the White House, also joking with some gentlemen of His Holiness, present for the official welcome.
The long presidential motorcade, which started from Villa Taverna, the president’s residence in Rome and home to the U.S. ambassador to Italy, was made up of over fifty cars, including armored vehicles and SUVs. Opened by an escort of ten motorcycles and the cars of the Italian State Police, while a helicopter guarded the area from above. It traveled along Via della Conciliazione following the route previously sealed off by the police. After the appointment at the Vatican, Biden is expected at the Quirinale for the meeting with the Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
The president – the second Catholic president after John Fitzgerald Kennedy – was accompanied to the Sala del Tronetto (Throne Room), where he first greeted Pope Francis. Francis then moved with the president to the Apostolic Library at 12.10 where, sitting across from each other at the papal desk, they started the private conversation that ended at 1:25pm. A dialogue therefore lasting about 75 minutes, probably the longest to date between a Pope and a US president, well beyond what happened in 2014 in the private meeting with the then President Barack Obama, which lasted 50 minutes.
The Pope gave the U.S. president a painting on a ceramic tile that portrays a pilgrim on the Tiber embankment that indicates St. Peter’s Basilica. In addition he gifted some documents, the same ones delivered a few hours earlier to South Korean President Moon: a signed Message for 2021 World Peace Day; the Document on Human Fraternity signed in Abu Dhabi with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar; the volume on the Statio Orbis published by LEV which collects the most beautiful photos of the Pontiff’s prayer on March 27, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.
Biden reciprocated with a hand-woven chasuble with flower and fruit embroidery. It dates back to 1930 when it was commissioned by the well-known Roman tailor Gamarelli and has since been used in the United States by the Jesuits. The chasuble comes from the historical archive of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, an important Washington church that has played a significant role in supporting the causes of desegregation and civil rights from 1787 onwards. At the same time, the White House said that, on the occasion of the World Day of the Poor on November 14, it will provide a donation of winter clothes to charity organizations, in the name of Pope Francis, to thank him for this meeting,
Biden, according to U.S. media reports, also gave the Pope a military coin from the State of Delaware, from the unit in which his son Beau, struck down in 2015 by a brain tumor, had served. A dramatic event for which Francis had already expressed his closeness at the time, meeting in the Philadelphia airport where he was visiting Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, a part of the Biden family to offer their condolences and pray together. Today’s audience is the fourth direct contact between Pope Francis and Joe Biden. The first took place at the inaugural Mass of the pontificate on March 19, 2013; then the two met two years later, in 2015, during Francis’ visit to the United States, first to the White House and Congress, then to Philadelphia for the aforementioned Meeting of Families. In 2016, the third meeting on April 29 in the Vatican, where Biden participated in the World Summit dedicated to regenerative medicine. Added to this is the Pontiff’s phone call in November 2020 to the newly elected President of the United States for congratulations.