When Did the Pope Visit White House Officials Last?

Papal visits to the United States are surprisingly frequent. American officials will also visit the Vatican occasionally as part of their state duties.

Although Pope Francis visited with the Obama Administration at the White House in 2015, the last interaction happened when Donald Trump brought several officials on the administration’s first foreign trip in 2017.

What was notable about this experience is that Sean Spicer, who was the White House press secretary at the time, was excluded from the meeting with Pope Francis and Donald Trump. It was a last-minute change that took him off of the shortlist of people selected for the private audience.

History of Papal Travel

Voluntary travel outside of Rome was almost non-existent for the first 500 years of the church. When Pope John Paul II took on pastoral trips, he was more active in that area than all of his predecessors combined.

Some popes didn’t reside in Rome, especially during the 13th century and the Avignon Papacy of the 14th century. A handful visited Constantinople in the early years of the church, but it wouldn’t be until Pope Stephen II crossed the Alps in 752 A.D., that Europeans began to see the influence of the church.

Pope Francis and Pope Paul VI both traveled around the world extensively, as did Pope Benedict XVI – although health issues kept the latter to a lesser schedule.

Pope Paul VI was the first to leave Italy since 1809, and he was also the first to travel by airplane. That allowed the papacy to visit Africa, Oceania, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere all during his time in office.

Pope John Paul II traveled the equivalent of 31 times around the planet in his journey, covering over 721,000 miles. His willingness to interact with others made him one of the most popular popes in history.

Why Do U.S. Presidents Meet with the Pope?

A total of 29 different meetings between the Pope and the sitting U.S. President have taken place over history. This total does not count the number of telephone conversations that take place between these two individuals. 

The first time a sitting president met with the pope was in 1919 when Benedict XV met with Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I.

Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to have such a meeting in 1878, but his visit with Pope Leo XIII happened after leaving the office.

Most of the meetings take place with an informal atmosphere. The conversation usually involves trying to create more peace in the world while encouraging specific structures or attitudes that reflect spiritual teachings.

When Pope Francis met with Trump in 2017, his gift to the president was a copy of the 2015 encyclical on climate change. The two then spoke about health care, immigrant assistance, and educational opportunities.

There will come a time when the pope meets with the current president once again. Until that day comes, the goal is to continue promoting peace in the world by choosing to love our neighbors as ourselves.

How Urban and Rural Voters Differ and Fuel Political Divisions

The election of Donald Trump helped to define more of the political divide that exists between urban and rural voters in the United States.

Since 1998, the number of registered voters in rural American counties has swung from 44% Republican to 54%. At the same time, Democratic voter registrations fell from 45% to 38%. The only stability exists in suburban counties, which are still swing areas for both political parties.

Although swings in political affiliation are somewhat frequent in the United States, what is fueling the divide between urban and rural voters are their views on specific social issues.

On Immigration

There is a 22 percentage point divide between rural (57%) and urban (35%) voters who say that growing numbers of immigrants threaten traditional American customs and values.

On Race

There is a 22 percentage point gap between urban (69%) and rural (47%) voters who say that white people benefit from advantages that African-Americans do not receive.

On Government

There is a 21 percentage point gap between urban (70%) and rural (49%) voters who say the government should be doing more to solve the problems the U.S. faces.

On Same-Gender Marriage

There is a 17 percentage point gap between rural (52%) and urban (35%) voters who say that it is a “very” or “somewhat” bad thing for a society to practice.

On Abortion

There is a 16 percentage point gap between rural (52%) and urban (36%) voters who say that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

[Statistics Reference]

What Is Notable About These Figures?

Concerning the issues that Americans feel are significant to society, most people in both parties find there is no room for compromise.

When rural voters say that the presence of immigrants threatens traditional American customs, there are very few people from the Republican camp who think like Democrats. When urban voters say that the presence of immigrants strengthens American society, you don’t get many Republicans to agree with that observation.

That’s why this divide has become a political fault line. There is no longer any room for compromise. One side sees themselves as being right, while their opponent is always wrong.

What fuels this divide? Economics.

About 70% of rural voters say that their values differ from those in big cities, with approximately 40% listing their views as “very different.” Only 20% of urban voters say that their values are “very different” from their rural counterparts.

This divide is about money. Does the federal government show preferential treatment to specific demographics?

People in rural areas are more likely to feel that immigrants are taking jobs away from them. They think that spiritual values are on the decline, and those in the big cities with their “Ivory towers” and “elitism” are to blame.

There is also a social identity to consider. Rural voters see themselves as people who look out for each other. Families that live in cities are not as compassionate, at least from the personal perspective, toward their neighbors in urban environments.

President Trump isn’t to blame for this division, although his comments certainly provoke debate between the two groups. This separation between urban and rural voters has been active in the U.S. for over 20 years. Until both sides feel like their concerns are being heard, it is going to continue. 

What Religion and Politics Quotes Reveal About America

Franklin Graham posted on Facebook December 5, 2019, this comment: “Seeing the murder of babies celebrated should send shivers up our spines. How can you trust someone who is okay with this?”

Joshua Feuerstein commented in 2017 about a dress code at school that doesn’t allow the U.S. flag. “Notice they single out OUR flag… but don’t prohibit others!” he wrote. “If you find our flag offensive… MOVE! Canada is full of snowflakes… you will FIT RIGHT IN!”

President Donald Trump once said, “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” He is also quoted as saying, “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created.”

What do today’s religion and politics quotes reveal about America? That spirituality is becoming defined by a person’s governmental stances more than their actual faith.

What Does the Bible Say About Politics?

Since a significant percentage of voters identify themselves as Christians spiritually, the Bible offers some words of advice.

1 Peter 2 tells Christians to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by Him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

Romans 13 says, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.”

The Christian perspective is more than having a responsibility to obey the laws. There is a call to be a good citizen.

1 Peter 2 also says, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

It is that final component that’s missing in many political conversations from a religious standpoint from an outside perspective.

How Do We Bring Civility Back to Religion and Politics?

The Bible says to put away “all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.” That seems like a reasonably straightforward instruction from a Christian standpoint.

Why does the Christian Right support Donald Trump with such passion when there are so many anti-faith comments that come from the president?

It is because there is a desire to have power over society. That perspective is exemplified by an exchange Trump had with a group of religious leaders in 2016.

“Are you allowed to use the word ‘Christmas’?” Trump asked. “Is there a restriction on the word ‘Christmas?’”

And one of the attendees, a group of pastors and religious leaders, said, “As long as you don’t refer to the baby Jesus as a ‘he.’ His preferred gender pronoun that day, that’s what you have to use.”

Presidents don’t need to be moral to be effective. It would be unfair to say that Trump changed after meeting with religious advisors, but the evangelicals who have had access to him have certainly shifted their perspectives.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. suggested that it may be immoral not to support Trump. Dr. James Dobson, who founded Focus on the Family, told people that as a “baby Christian,” the president needs the benefit of the doubt.

Franklin Graham insinuates that Stormy Daniels, the purpose of the impeachment proceedings, and more are all just “fake news.”

If Donald Trump is the standard-bearer of American Christianity, then how far has society gone from the days when Wheaton College was a stop for the Underground Railroad? That is a question that every person of faith must ask themselves.