President Donald Trump touched down in the Vatican early Wednesday, on the sixth stop of his first foreign trip. And while he was greeted by King Salman in Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, his visit to the Holy See landed him a welcome from the leader of the Catholic faith. And according to reports, the 80-year-old pontiff took full advantage of the opportunity ― Pope Francis gave Donald Trump his climate change encyclical as a gift, which is probably not something the president, a notorious climate change denier, has much interest in.
According to NPR, Trump isn't the first foreign leader to receive a copy of the encyclical ― Francis has reportedly given it to other heads-of-state in the past ― and it wasn't the only piece of Francis' writing that he received, either. Trump was also given a copy of Francis's 2013 writing on the Catholic Church's primary mission in the world, as well as a 2016 writing on the church's attitudes toward divorce, morality, and sex.
But in the current moment, the political charge behind Francis' gift can't be overlooked. It's no secret that Trump strikes terror into the hearts of environmentalists, owing to his longstanding dismissal of climate change as a legitimate issue ― back in 2012, he claimed in a tweet that the entire concept was fabricated by China to hurt U.S. competitiveness. And the situation is all the more serious in advance of Trump's trip to Sicily for the G-7 summit, where he'll surely be challenged by European leaders on whether he'll keep the U.S. in the Paris Climate Agreement.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would withdraw from the agreement if elected, which would be a major step backwards for American leadership on climate. That said ― and maybe Pope Francis is aware of this ― Trump has broken several campaign promises already, and throughout his brief foreign trip has appeared susceptible to flattery and adulation. As such, urging him to act better and make more responsible choices while buttering him up actually isn't the worst strategy, provided the person doing it has the world's best interests at heart. And in Francis' case, at least as far as the climate is concerned, that's clearly true.
In short, seeing as this occurred only a few days before he arrives at the summit, where it's likely he'll be called to account on his views on the climate while he's there, one could see this moment as a last-ditch effort on Francis' part to sway Trump's mind, to put him in a more acquiescing mood before the G-7 summit. Whether it'll work, of course, is impossible to say, although it bears mentioning that Trump is reportedly not much of a reader. It's a shame nobody's ever converted the entire contents of the encyclical into a Fox News-style panel segment, but c'est la vie.
Trump also passed his own gifts, a set of first-edition books by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., according to ABC News, along to Francis. One of the books was reportedly autographed by the historic civil rights hero, which is quite a gift indeed, although given Trump's reportedly light reading habits, it's quite likely that he's not intimately familiar with their contents.
For Trump's part, he reportedly assured Francis that he "will not forget" what was said. Fortunately, it won't take very long to find out whether that's true ― the first family arrived in Brussels, Belgium, after wrapping up their brief Vatican trip, and will arrive in Sicily for Friday's summit.