Opinion: Trump and the pope - two leaders worlds apart | Opinion | DW | 24.05.2017
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Opinion: Trump and the pope - two leaders worlds apart

Sometimes a picture says 1,000 words. Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump do not just have a difference of opinion; they have diametrically opposed views of the world, writes DW's Christoph Strack.

Their meeting was probably "amazing," to use one of US President Donald Trump's favorite superlatives. Pictures of Trump's private audience with Pope Francis show Trump smiling, as he has been throughout this entire trip. The host looks like he is reminiscing about the Obama family's warm reception at White House in 2015.

The meeting lasted 29 minutes; in other words, not even half an hour. Pope Francis' almost regular meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel undoubtedly last longer, but that is another matter. Donald Trump is a president who wanted to drop by because it would look good back home and the pope is someone who always receives statesmen, be they dictators, violators of human rights or, in this case, Donald Trump. Pope Francis is not trying to change the world; actually, he is open to any high-ranking politician who knocks on his door. The 29 minutes almost seem farcical with regard to the great expectations placed on this meeting, which was subject to much speculation in the US media.

US bishops criticize Trump

Maybe it is enough to glance at a letter published not long before Trump met the pope. The letter reminds readers that the actual in-depth dialogue on the pope's and the Catholic Church's expectations would take place at another time and place. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), a large organization that includes right-wing spiritual leaders, has sharply criticized the Trump administration's planned budget cuts for 2018, which include drastic reductions for social spending in areas like healthcare and food aid for the poor. Their letter, sent to the US Congress, slammed "disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons."

Strack Christoph Kommentarbild App

DW's Christoph Strack

The US bishops stand by Pope Francis, who is dedicated to mercy and whose stance may annoy many. That solidarity is not necessarily a given as many US bishops are on the same wavelength as the Republicans, for example, when it comes to abortion.

Of course President Trump and Pope Francis are worlds apart in their beliefs and all the systems they exist in. Trump is the epitome of American capitalism: He became a billionaire and now travels the globe as the world's most powerful man with a smile on his face wherever he goes. He may not understand the world or even want to understand it. He stands for the US ideal of individualism. On the other hand, the Argentinian immigrant's son, Pope Francis, is the epitome of the common good and unconditional coexistence in a world family. The current pope knows that he rubs many people the wrong way. In the past, people have said that he is left-wing.

US church undergoing massive changes

The gulf between individual happiness and social responsibility has long played a significant role in Catholicism's unusual relationship with US ideals. And what is happening today? In many cities - not just Los Angeles and San Francisco - there is a whole world of immigrants who want to live the American dream of a personal success story. Most of the immigrants who move to the US from Central and South America or travel across the Pacific Ocean from Asia are Catholic. This influx of immigrants has greatly influenced communities and changed the church in the US.

What does all this have to do with the different facial expressions in the photos taken in the Vatican? Pope Francis is the one who appoints bishops and cardinals and in every future appointment, he will closely examine who is concerned about the fate of marginalized Americans. Trump may not care, but the Catholic Church in the US will become much more political in the coming years, because the message of the gospel is clearly political for Francis. You can be sure that the pope promised Trump he would pray for him and America. Let us see what good it does.

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