Sitting face to face across a desk, President Joe Biden and Pope Francis engaged in extended talks on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic.
The world’s two most prominent Roman Catholics ran overtime in highly personal discussions that also touched on the loss of president’s adult son and jokes about ageing well.
Video released by the Vatican showed several warm, relaxed moments between Francis and Biden as they repeatedly shook hands and smiled.
Francis often sports a dour look, especially in official photos, but he seemed in good spirits. Their private meeting lasted about 75 minutes, according to the Vatican, an unusually long time for an audience with the pontiff.
The pair sat across from one another at a desk in the papal library, accompanied by a translator. They then proceeded to an exchange of gifts and a broader meeting including the first lady and top officials. The lengthy session put Biden more than an hour behind schedule for his later meetings.
“Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution,” the White House said.
“He lauded Pope Francis’ leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone through vaccine sharing and an equitable global economic recovery.”
A dozen Swiss Guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red-plumed halberds stood at attention in the San Damaso courtyard as Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived.
They were received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household, and then greeted one by one the papal ushers, or papal gentlemen, who lined up in the courtyard.
“It’s good to be back,” Biden said as he shook the hand of one of them.
“I’m Jill’s husband,” he said to another, before being escorted into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the pope’s private library.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in previewing the visit, said she expects a “warm and constructive dialogue” between the two leaders.
“There’s a great deal of agreement and overlap with the president and Pope Francis on a range of issues: poverty, combating the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
“These are all hugely important, impactful issues that will be the centrepiece of what their discussion is when they meet.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president and pontiff would meet privately, then hold talks with expanded delegations.
Mr Biden is visiting Rome and then Glasgow, Scotland, for back-to-back summits, first a gathering for leaders of Group of 20 leading and developing nations and then a global climate conference.