“Give back to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s,” said Jesus in relation to the taxes paid to the Roman Emperor. In some sense that was a kind of restarting point, a division, in the relationship between the two main spheres of power: the dominant one on earth and the spiritual one on heaven.
Since the very beginning that relationship has not been easy. There have been many tensions and problems between the Emperor and the Pontifex Maximus. From the Roman Empire and later on, there was always tension between the realpolitik of the commander in chief and the role of the Papacy as a lighthouse for humankind to avoid risky cliffs.
On the one hand, until the reunification of Italy, the Pope was also a king or a prince, controlling huge territories in the center of that country. Being a main player in the game was a real cause of problems in the relationship between the Vatican and other Europeans royal families.
But on the other hand, there were many periods in human history when there was a close relationship between the hegemonic power and the Vatican, sometimes on specific issues and sometimes on a larger agenda. Maybe one of the clearest examples of that coincidence was when Pope John Paul II and President Reagan, together with Margaret Thatcher, joined forces to fight Soviet communism, first in Poland and later in the entire world.
Only the two of them, the translator and surely God himself, know what really happened on the private meeting between Francis and Trump at the Pope’s studio in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
Being that the participants were two of the most important leaders of humankind, their agenda surely revised all the main concerns related to the world today: terrorism, war and peace, environmental matters, immigration, among others. Issues in which they probably partially disagree. Many people have speculated about those differences and believe that they were going to portray and mark their future relationship. On the contrary, after seeing the cordiality of the meeting and the smiles in their faces during the introduction of the president’s family and staff, it seems that maybe it will not be the case. Both are clever outsider politicians who are trying to change and reform institutions and systems, even representing two very different traditions. Francis, born as Jorge Bergoglio, is from an Italian-descended family in the Catholic southern Buenos Aires and Trump is from New York with the same immigrant origin but from the Protestant northern European tradition. Their relationship with money was also very distant. Francis, is a priest who always helped and attended the poor as the losers of the capitalist race and Trump is promoting and representing the winners. In some sense, two faces of the same coin, the two sides of our civilization. The ones who pay attention in how to generate wealth and the others who think about how to fairly distribute it.
But even with that huge lack of coincidences, they share several areas of interest. In addition to the gifts they exchanged after the meeting, the president gave to the Pope the most important present: his very itinerary. The Air Force One has accomplished an extraordinary trip joining the three main spiritual centers of the World: Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican. In a kind of anti-Huntingtonian will, Trump follows Francis’ idea of building bridges among civilizations instead of building walls.
Only one day after the Manchester horror, they surely agree on the idea of protecting the life of Christians in the Middle East and stopping Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. For different reasons they also probably coincide in their efforts to control and even stop globalization as the dominant force of today’s economy. The president is taking into account the loss of American jobs that this system is generating while the Pope is thinking about the social injustice and inequality that it produces.
Agreements, disagreements, smiles: checking the scale at the Vatican, we hope that maybe today there was white smoke coming out from the Sistine Chapel again.
*The writer, Luis Rosales, was elected as the youngest state representative in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1989. In 2011 he was candidate for governor in Mendoza, representing Compromiso Federal, a union of three local and national conservative parties. He is the Latin American partner of Dick Morris. Together they have worked in more than a dozen presidential campaigns around the region. They have written the book “El Poder,” about their experiences in Latin America and other parts of the world. To read more of Luis Rosales’ reports, Go Here