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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.

Scott Larson