United States

U.S. President Joe Biden's meeting with Pope Francis goes into overtime

Published : October 29, 2021 19:18 IST

Photo: Vatican Media/REUTERS

The devoutly Catholic president had an audience with the pope ahead of the G20 and COP26 meetings.

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived at the Vatican on October 29 for a meeting with Pope Francis. The two discussed global challenges ranging from the COVID pandemic to climate change and poverty. "It's good to be back," Biden declared as he arrived in the San Damaso courtyard. Biden has previously met the pontiff three times but this is their first meeting since he was elected president.

He shook the hands of a Swiss Guard and introduced himself as "Jill's husband" before going into his private audience with the pope. Later on October 29, official sources said that the meeting had gone well over its allotted time to 75 minutes, much longer than most papal audiences.

Before he left the Vatican, Biden thanked Francis for "his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution". The president then praised the pope's "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".

Biden's faith front and center

Biden, only the second ever Catholic head of state in U.S. history after John F. Kennedy, is a devout Catholic and almost never misses Sunday mass. The U.S. leader takes pride in his faith and has spoken of the strength he drew from it when faced with personal tragedies like the death of his first wife and daughter in a car accident and later his son Beau due to cancer.

Despite the two leaders sharing a range of concerns and a great deal of agreement, there are also sources of disagreement, for instance on the issue of abortion. Biden supports abortion rights, while Francis has described terminating pregnancies as "murder." The U.S. president's stance in support of abortion and same-sex marriage has drawn the ire of many U.S. bishops, with some of them demanding that Catholic politicians supportive of those issues be denied communion.

Where is Biden traveling to in Europe?

Biden will attend the first in-person G20 summit since the pandemic in Rome and the U.N. Climate Summit COP26 in Glasgow. The U.S. leader is expected to highlight that democracy can work to meet the challenges of the 21st century. But that positivity has been overshadowed by political trouble at home.

Following the papal meeting, Biden will meet separately with Group of 20 summit hosts Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He will then meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, where he is expected to address the fallout in bilateral relations, after Australia scrapped a French submarine deal in favor of a U.S.-U.K. agreement.

Biden will then head to Scotland on the night of October 31 for the COP26 climate summit, where he will lead a large U.S. delegation to showcase America's plans. In Glasgow, Biden is set to deliver a major address on climate change and attempt to push for U.S. leadership on the topic.

What will Biden talk about?

Biden is expected to address the Iranian nuclear program and Iran's announcement that it may return to talks next month in Vienna. He is also set to persuade wealthier U.S. allies to step up their commitments to share COVID-19 vaccine stocks with lower- and middle-income countries.

But Biden's main goal will be to make a strong case for democracy, in a world where it is increasingly under pressure. He is expected to argue even with all its troubles, essential aspects such as fair elections and representative government, are still better than autocracies.

Biden's position in the U.S.

The U.S. president delayed his departure to meet with congressional Democrats to push his domestic priorities on infrastructure, climate change and social welfare. Voting on the infrastructure plan in the House of Representatives was ultimately put on hold after progressives demanded a vote on the separate climate and social spending bill. The latter proposed piece of legislation appeared to get the go ahead on October 28 after being watered down enough to get the support of two key Democrat senators who had been blocking a deal.

Biden's Europe trip comes as he faces an increasingly pessimistic nation at home and souring views of his handling of the nation's economy. In a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, just 41 per cent of Americans now approve of Biden's economic stewardship, down from 49 per cent in August and a sharp reversal since March, when 60 per cent approved. Only about a third of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, also a significant decline since earlier this year when about half said so.

sri,ab,es/rt (AP, Reuters)

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