RNS

Pope Francis will meet US President Donald Trump on the American leader's first official visit to Europe, the Vatican said Thursday.

In a brief statement, the Vatican announced the president's trip to the Holy See, planned for 24th May. Mr Trump also announced the trip in a Rose Garden ceremony Thursday, timed to coincide with the National Day of Prayer, in which he signed executive orders that he said would protect Americans' religious liberty.

“Pope Francis will receive the Hon Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, on Wednesday, 24 May 2017, at 8:30am in the Apostolic Palace,” the Vatican statement reads.

In recent months there had been speculation about a possible meeting between the two leaders, who are strongly opposed on major issues including climate change, capitalism, immigration and Mr Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

During his early morning visit to the Vatican, Mr Trump will also meet the secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who is responsible for the Holy See’s relations with states.

The President will stop in Rome to meet the Pope before heading to Brussels for a NATO summit and then returning to Sicily for a meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations (26th to 27th May).

Recent media reports suggested that Mr Trump may have been snubbing the Pope but there was also speculation the President sought to delay his first audience with the pontiff because he has not yet appointed a US ambassador to the Holy See to accompany him.

In April Mr Trump raised eyebrows when he said: “I look very much forward to meeting the Pope,” during a joint news conference at the White House with the Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, later said that the meeting had not been confirmed.

Relations between the Pope and Mr Trump suffered a serious blow last year when the Republican candidate pledged to build a wall on the US-Mexican border.

Without naming Mr Trump, the Pope said: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

An infuriated Mr Trump at the time described the Pope’s comments as “disgraceful” and said he was “proud to be a Christian".

On the day of Mr Trump’s inauguration in January, Pope Francis sent the incoming President a telegram urging him not to forget the poor and those in need.

The Pope also called for greater compassion for refugees days after Mr Trump tried to impose a travel ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries in January.

In a video of the pontiff’s prayer intentions for February, the Pope did not specifically refer to the president or his policies but expressed concern about large numbers of people who Pope Francis said were being marginalised on the fringes of society.

“Pray with me for all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees and marginalized, so they may be welcomed and find comfort in our communities,” he said.

The Vatican has also urged Mr Trump to listen to “dissenting voices” on climate change.