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Biden continues the tradition of U.S. presidents meeting with the pope

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden has arrived in Rome, the first stop of his European tour. He's there for the G-20 summit of world leaders, which begins tomorrow, then travels on to Glasgow, Scotland, for the U.N. Climate Summit, known as COP26. But before all that, the president meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican today.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli covers the Vatican - joins us now from Rome. Sylvia, it is traditional for a U.S. president to meet with the pope when in Rome. These two leaders know each other very well. And they share many of the same concerns. What are they likely going to be talking about?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, you know, first of all, this was a meeting between a U.S. president and an important world moral leader. And they're likely to have focused on the key global issues of the moment - climate, poverty, inequality, refugees and, of course, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. And they're very much on the same page on these issues. You know, when the pope visited the United States in 2015, he spent a lot of time with the then-vice president. And it was shortly after the president's son Beau had died. And Biden said later the pope provided more comfort than even he, I think, will understand. And then this year, on the Inauguration Day, the pope sent the new president a very warm note. So, you know, there's a very good rapport between the two of them.

MARTINEZ: Now, Biden is the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy. But Biden's support of abortion rights have made him a controversial figure for many U.S. Catholic bishops. Sylvia, how does that maybe play into his relationship with Pope Francis?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, last month, Pope Francis was asked about the possibility that U.S. bishops will deny communion to pro-choice politicians, which means including the president. The pope replied, abortion is murder; those who carry out abortions kill. But he added that he has never denied communion to anyone and that it's not a prize for the perfect. He also said that priests and bishops should accompany the faithful with closeness, compassion and tenderness, not by condemning. So, you know, contrary to U.S. bishops, Francis has not made abortion his priority issue. You know, and on several issues, Francis and the president share the same enemies among conservative American Catholics. But most Vatican observers doubt that the communion issue will have been a top issue in their meeting today.

MARTINEZ: Anything out of the ordinary in his visit?

POGGIOLI: Well, yesterday, the Vatican suddenly announced live coverage would be limited to the arrival of the president's motorcade in the courtyard, claiming COVID restrictions. And this was not just for President Biden. It was also for the earlier meeting with the South Korean president. Usually, coverage includes the pope greeting his guests before they sit down for a chat. And, you know, it means that this time we will be able to judge the mood of the meeting only after the Vatican releases the final photo op. If you remember the photos of the Pope and President Obama, they were laughing and smiling broadly. Then there was the pope's glum look, frowning face when he was standing next to President Trump and his family. So the pictures of Francis and President Biden will be the first clue as to how the meeting went.

MARTINEZ: And one more thing - Saturday and Sunday, Biden will be meeting with world leaders for the G-20. Some are going to be joining the summit virtually. What's on that agenda?

POGGIOLI: Well, this is the first time most of the leaders of the G-20 countries, that - they account for 75% of global trade and 60% of the world population - they're going to be meeting for the first time in person after nearly two years of lockdowns. Host Italy has set three action points - people, planet, prosperity - and hopes the summit will set a shared midcentury deadline for net-zero gas emissions. The summit is an important preamble to the climate change conference next week in Glasgow.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, thank you.

POGGIOLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.