President Trump meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican

Early Wednesday at the Vatican, Pope Francis and President Donald Trump had their first face-to-face meeting.

The two men's worldviews collided head-on early previous year, when Francis was sharply critical of Trump's election campaign pledge to build an impenetrable wall on the Mexican border and his declaration that the United States should turn away Muslim immigrants and refugees.

Pope Francis (R) stands with US President Donald Trump, US First Lady Melania Trump (C), the daughter of US President Donald Trump Ivanka Trump and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (L) during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017.

"Welcome!", the Pope said on greeting Trump.

Trump is also meeting Italy's president and prime minister before setting off to Brussels for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting on Thursday.

The president, accompanied by his wife and several aides, arrived at the Vatican just after 8 a.m. local time.

"He is something", Trump said.

The pope even avoided the small talk that usually occurs before the media. Joining Trump was a USA delegation of 12 more individuals, including his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka.

Trump's softer stance on environmental regulations also is at odds with Francis' view that climate change is caused mostly by human activity.

The two men, meting for the first time, shook hands.

Francis has been particularly critical of Trump's planned border wall with Mexico, condemning the construction of such barriers to keep out foreigners as "not Christian".

The Pope was then introduced to the USA president's entourage, which included: the First Lady; his eldest daughter, Ivanka; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and presidential spokeswoman Hope Hicks.

Trump, who has threatened to ignore the Paris accords on emissions and described global warming as a hoax, vowed to read them.

The pope's gifts to Trump included a medal by a Roman artist depicting an olive, which is a symbol of peace.

Trump, who appeared to have retained his belief in his divine credentials, but conveniently lost the papal part, hit back, saying it was "disgraceful" of the pope to question his faith.

"By putting everybody together you can really build a coalition and show that it's not a Muslim problem, it's not a Jewish problem, it's not a Catholic problem, it's not a Christian problem, it really is a world problem", the official said. He has already visited Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The pope also gave him copies of his three main teaching documents. "I won't forget what you said".

The meeting with the Pope Francis concludes Trump's tour of the ancestral homes of the world's three largest monotheistic religions.

Under clear blue skies, Mr Trump received a tribute from the Swiss Guard in a Vatican courtyard where he was greeted by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the prefect of the pontifical household.

Trump, famed for his love of fast food and his use of "fat" as an insult for his enemies, took the quip in good part, beaming broadly, as he did throughout the public parts of an encounter that lasted barely 30 minutes.

Security has been stepped up across Rome, with the areas around the Vatican City, the Italian presidential palace and the American ambassador's residence, where Mr Trump is staying, temporarily closed to traffic.

"Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis".

In Brussels, team Trump will meet European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officials before returning to Italy for the G7 summit in Sicily on Friday and Saturday. Trump was expected to be given a tour of the Vatican after he arrived and then meet with the pontiff in his library.

  • Carolyn Briggs