Pope Francis asks President Trump to be peacemaker, gives him environmental letter

VATICAN CITY, May 24 (Reuters) - Pope Francis urged U.S. President Donald Trump to be a peacemaker at their highly anticipated first meeting on Wednesday, and Trump promised he would not forget the pontiff's message.

Under clear blue skies, Trump, who exchanged sharp words with the pope during the U.S. election campaign last year, received a tribute from the Swiss Guard in a Vatican courtyard when he arrived.

He entered a small elevator taking him to the third floor of the Apostolic Palace and, after a long ceremonial walk past frescoed corridors, shook the pope's hand at the entrance to the private study, which the frugal pontiff uses only for official occasions.

Before the door of the wood-lined elevator closed, a Vatican protocol official was heard quipping to the president that it was not "like Trump Tower in New York."

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Pope Francis meets U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/pool
Pope Francis exchange gifts with U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/pool
Pope Francis meets U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/pool
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania, and the U.S. delegation pose with Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump stands next to Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
Pope Francis (C) walks past US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and the daughter of US President Donald Trump Ivanka Trump (L) at the end of a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Alessandra Tarantino (Photo credit should read ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AFP/Getty Images)
A man raises a U.S. flag minutes before U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24: US President Donald Trump arrives to meet Pope Francis, on May 24, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24 : U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and his wife Melania (R) arrive at the Vatican for their audience with Pope Francis, on May 24, 2017. (Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24: US President Donald Trump is welcomed by the prefect of the papal household Georg Gaenswein as he arrives at the Apostolic Palace for an audience with Pope Francis on May 24, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican. The president will return to Italy on Friday, attending the Group of 7 summit in Sicily. Trump will also visit American troops stationed in at a US air base in Sicily. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
Archibishop Georg Ganswein escorts U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump who arrive to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Donald Trump arrives to meet Pope Francis for a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool
Pope Francis meets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool
Pope Francis meets U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool
Pope Francis meets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin after a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania talk with Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
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Francis smiled faintly as he greeted Trump outside the study and was not as outgoing as he sometimes is with visiting heads of state. Trump, seeming subdued, said "it is a great honor."

Even when the two were sitting at the pope's desk in the presence of photographers and reporters, the pope avoided the small talk that usually occurs before the media is ushered out.

The two talked privately for about 30 minutes with translators.

Both men looked far more relaxed at the end of the private meeting, with the pope smiling and joking with Trump and his wife Melania.

Francis's interpreter could be heard translating a comment by the pope to the First Lady: "What do you give him to eat?."

Francis then gave the president a small sculptured olive tree and told him through the interpreter that it symbolized peace.

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"It is my desire that you become an olive tree to construct peace," the Pope said, speaking in Spanish.

Trump responded: "We can use peace."

Francis also gave Trump a signed copy of his 2017 peace message whose title is "Nonviolence - A Style of Politics for Peace," and a copy of his 2015 encyclical letter on the need to protect the environment from the effects of climate change.

"Well, I'll be reading them," Trump said.

During his election campaign, Trump described as a hoax scientific findings that human economic activity contributed to global warming. As president, he has proposed deep cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and the elimination of many environmental regulations.

PARTING PROMISE

Trump gave the pope a boxed set of five first-edition books by murdered U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

As Trump and the pope said goodbye at the door of the study, Trump told the pope: "Thank you, thank you. I won't forget what you said."

Asked how the meeting with the pope went, Trump said: "Great. He is something. He is really good. We had a fantastic meeting."

A Vatican statement said the meeting was "cordial" and that the Vatican hoped there could be "serene collaboration" between the U.S. government and the American Catholic Church, including "assistance to immigrants."

The U.S. Catholic Church hierarchy opposes Trump's attempt to cut federal assistance for cities that give sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

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Pope Francis talks with U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24: US First Lady Melania Trump arrives at the Apostolic Palace for an audience with Pope Francis on May 24, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican. The president will return to Italy on Friday, attending the Group of 7 summit in Sicily. Trump will also visit American troops stationed in at a US air base in Sicily. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania are greeted by Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
US First Lady Melania Trump shakes hands with officials as she arrives at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) walks along with US President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Evan Vucci (Photo credit should read EVAN VUCCI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) walks past US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and the daughter of US President Donald Trump Ivanka Trump (L) at the end of a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Alessandra Tarantino (Photo credit should read ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24 : U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and his wife Melania (L) are welcomed by Monsignor Georg Gaenswein as they arrive at the Vatican for their audience with Pope Francis, on May 24, 2017. (Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24: US First Lady Melania Trump arrives at the Apostolic Palace for an audience with Pope Francis on May 24, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican. The president will return to Italy on Friday, attending the Group of 7 summit in Sicily. Trump will also visit American troops stationed in at a US air base in Sicily. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
A girl takes a selfie with U.S. first lady Melania Trump at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
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It also opposes his plan to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. The pope said last year a man who thinks about building walls and not bridges is "not Christian."

Trump, who was a candidate at the time, responded that it was "disgraceful" of the Argentine-born pope, who represents just over half of the world's two billion Christians, to question his faith.

The meeting with the pope was the third stop on a nine-day foreign tour, and part of his world tour of religions after meeting leaders of Muslim nations in Saudi Arabia and visiting holy sites in Jerusalem.

Trump at first did not plan to stop in Rome during his visit to Europe, which some in the Vatican saw as a snub. When he changed his mind, the Vatican squeezed him in at 8:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, an unusual day and an unusually early time.

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