Don't Expect Fireworks From the Francis-Trump Meeting
Though many seem to be expecting fireworks from the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and President Trump, they are very likely to be disappointed. Francis has said that what he hopes to find is common ground. When asked about the upcoming encounter with President Trump, the Pope responded: “We have to look for doors that are at least ajar, to pass through and speak of things we agree on and move forward from there. Step by step.”
Certainly, they can start by agreeing about the dismal state of religious liberty around the world, and specifically about the resulting Christian persecution. Pope Francis has spoken out forcefully on the subject, as it behooves the spiritual leader of over a billion Catholics to do. In a recent touching video, the Pope asks for prayers and material help for the estimated 200 million Christians around the world that are at risk for torture, forced migration, arrest, and death. He makes a special point that whether Orthodox, Protestant, or Catholic, the persecuted are hated and targeted simply for being “followers of Christ.”
Vice President Pence used the same phrase in a recent address where he urgently reiterated the Administration’s commitment to use the Armed Forces of the United States to stop Christian genocide, saying: “we will not rest, we will not relent until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source.” In his address in Egypt Pope Francis too spoke about our common “duty to dismantle the deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”
Closer to home, Pope Francis, who made a surprise visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor while in Washington, D.C., is sure to congratulate Mr. Trump on his recent executive order that is helping to end the relentless harassment they have faced because of the previous administration’s abortion pill mandate. The Little Sisters were forced to defend their conscience rights all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States – using precious resources they would have rather used to serve the elderly indigent.
Another priority both leaders hold in common is eradicating the widespread horror of modern slavery. The International Labor Organization estimates that 21 million people worldwide are in forced labor, with most of these being migrant workers. The most lucrative form of slavery, however, is forced sexual exploitation, with global profits estimated at $99 billion. In February the President held a listening session with organizations working to end slavery in which he said he is prepared to bring the “full force and weight” of his administration to this effort. There have been reports of significant increases in sex-trafficking arrests in the first few months of the Trump administration, likely related to the Presidents’ directions to the Justice Department and Homeland Security.
Pope Francis for his part has established the Santa Marta Group, an international alliance of police chiefs and Catholic bishops working together to eradicate human trafficking. The idea is to form a comprehensive strategy that includes prevention, enforcement, pastoral care, and reintegration—all necessary components in the fight against slavery. Over thirty countries (including the U.S.) are participating in this group, and the Pope hopes that soon “men and women may no longer be used as a means to an end, and that their inviolable dignity may always be respected.”
At least on these two issues—trafficking and Christian persecution—there is earnest agreement between the two heads of state. Hopefully there will be more areas of agreement that will lead to friendly and effective collaboration ordered toward eliminating the many other ills that afflict the world today.