What Pope Francis believes makes America great

Foreign leaders are learning how to best approach meetings with President Trump. “He likes to have wins for America and wins for himself from bilateral meetings,” Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the United States told the New York Times

What does a win look like for Trump’s Wednesday visit to the Vatican? 

It’s a hard question since the American president and Pope Francis are seemingly the polar opposites in temperament and diverge on any number of political issues. But to help get an idea of what might be a “win” for the president, one just has to look back to the papal visit to the United States two years ago. 

Speaking in front of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Francis said, “May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy. And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself.”

{mosads}He praised the strong history of religious freedom in the country, noting how “the Quakers who founded Philadelphia were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual” and that “this conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance.”


Francis believes religious freedom makes America great. Trump can get a “win” by committing to protect religious freedom for all Americans. That starts by changing course on how his administration treats American who are Muslim.

Where Francis and Trump have diverged is on the treatment of Muslims. Francis’ outreach to Muslims worldwide has been a theme of his papacy. Most notable, Francis washed the feet of Muslims and other non-Christian refugees at Holy Thursday services in 2013 and 2016. “All of us together, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, evangelical brothers and sisters — children of the same God,” he said. “We want to live in peace, integrated.”

Trump has notably said, “I think Islam hates us” and tried twice to impose a travel ban on visitors to the United States from seven (later limited to six) Muslim-majority countries.

On the first stop of his foreign tour in Saudi Arabia, Trump showed some signs of changing. He moderated his tone, declaring that Islam is ‘one of the world’s great faiths.’ As Catholic writer Charles Camosy noted in Crux, “This new approach is much more in line with Catholic teaching, which utterly rejects the idea that Christians are somehow in a cultural conflict with Muslims.” 

Hopefully, the president’s meeting with Francis further cements his newfound respect for Islam and Muslims. 

When Francis came to the United States, he spoke powerfully about what makes America great: religious freedom. That freedom must be respected for all people, including Americans who are Muslim.

One can hope that support for religious freedom, both in the US and in US foreign policy, will serve as a cornerstone for Trump’s “make America great” agenda. And if Trump pledges to uphold authentic religious freedom, namely religious freedom for all, he can find common ground, and even opportunities for collaboration, at the Vatican.


Jennifer S. Bryson, Ph.D., is Director of Operations and Development at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom in DC and a parishioner in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. Bryson has a Ph.D. from Yale in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.” Follw her on twitter @brysonjs

 The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags American Muslims Donald Trump Freedom of religion Jennifer S. Bryson Muslim ban Politics Pope Francis
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