It didn’t make the papers, but Xi Jinping and Pope Francis actually met during their recent visits to the U.S. It was Saturday, September 26, in the VIP Lounge at JFK, as Xi was arriving from Washington and Francis was heading to Philadelphia.
Francis was supposed to leave before Xi arrived, but he was delayed and Xi arrived early. Their staffs were off sorting out the complications and the two, desperate for a coffee, accompanied only by their interpreters, happened to meet at the hospitality counter:
Ah, Pope, I am Xi.
Yes, yes, and I am Francis. But I see that you really are a ‘he’ not a ‘she.’ Ha ha, my first joke in English.
Oh, yes, I ‘she.’ Ha ha, also my first joke in English.
Very good! But, let us continue in our native tongues, since we have interpreters fluent in both Spanish and Mandarin, by some miracle.
Miracle? In China, we would have called it the logical result of meticulous long-range planning.
I see … and I see you are a coffee lover.
Yes, when Starbucks opened a shop in the Forbidden City, I was hooked. Great coffee and service with a smile. Three cheers for Capitalism.
Capitalism? But I thought you were a Communist!
Well, let’s not get hung up on semantics. For that matter, I thought you were a Communist. Ha ha.
Ah, yes, some American politicians have called me that, but it is simply my concern for the poor and for our beleaguered planet.
We have much in common. And how has your trip been?
Oh, very good. My speech to Congress was well-received, though, curiously, the Speaker of the House was constantly crying. I hope it wasn’t anything I said.
I don’t think so. My people tell me he is just overwrought and, in fact, may resign. It’s the constant battles within his party, and also between the parties, that have pushed him to the brink.
Ah, that may explain why one side stood, clapping, and the other sat silently when I said one thing, and then the other side stood while the rest sat, when I said another. I thought I was at an Argentina vs. Brazil futbol match. They just can’t agree on anything.
Unlike in the Catholic church, I’d imagine.
Oh, no, far from it. It’s a snake-pit. Every day is a struggle against corruption, abuse, narrow-mindedness.
Just like our Politburo. But at least you have an ideology that you all believe in. I’ve got nothing but a giant portrait of Mao that I couldn’t sell for junk, plus the Almighty Yuan, which is ok when the economy is doing well, but as useless as yesterday’s toilet paper when things are going bad.
Capitalism can be a false God. Might Christianity be of help? It can be a great source of comfort, especially in times of stress.
I don’t think so. Christians can be real trouble-makers, each thinking he has found the Truth, and each with a different version of the Truth.
Well, I do agree that indiscipline on such emotional issues can be dangerous. People often misinterpret my social message as encouraging them to think for themselves on issues better left to us theologians. But I should ask you about your trip. Has it been successful?
Oh, rather mixed, though we and the U.S. do see eye-to-eye on climate change.
Good! Our planet is our sacred mother and it is our duty to protect her.
Well, I’m not sure about ‘sacred.’ For us, it’s simple pragmatism. If we can’t get the air and water clean, it will be a question of which comes first — the population all dead or their kicking us out on our — may I be crude? — asses.
Ah, yes, just like Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the temple, on that part of their anatomy. But, was climate change the only thing you could agree on?
Pretty much. The Americans claim we are stealing their business secrets, but I told them, honestly, we do not commit such acts and do not condone it by others.
Now, now! I’ve been a priest all my life, and I’ve heard tens of thousands of confessions. Very little gets past me.
OK, OK, nobody’s perfect.
Perhaps, but he only had to look after people’s souls, not wheat harvests, coal production, typhoons, train schedules, labor unrest … Oh, God!