First Lady Melania Trump chose to stick to Vatican tradition by wearing a black dress and a traditional black lace mantilla or veil when she met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday. Melania met with Pope Francis after arriving in Italy on Tuesday with her husband, President Donald Trump.
Melania wore a black lace coat by Dolce & Gabbana and covered her head with a black lace mantilla, according to the Daily Mail. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, also wore a black, long-sleeved lace dress and a pearl necklace. She covered her head with a black lace mantilla in conformity with the dress code for women visiting the Vatican.
Melania’s black lace dress reached conservatively below her knees and had long sleeves.
President Trump’s aide, Hope Hicks, also wore a black dress and mantilla.
Women visiting the Vatican to meet with the pope traditionally wear a veil as a sign of respect. It is customary for Catholic women to wear veils to church, but the practice became less popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
“What do you give him to eat? Lots of pizza?” Pope Francis asked Melania in Italian when they met. He was apparently poking light-hearted fun at President Trump’s large size.
“Pizza!” Melania reportedly responded, laughing.
After Pope Francis had greeted Melania, he greeted Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. He also greeted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other U.S. officials.
Melania later visited a children’s hospital run by the Vatican, and met with victims of human trafficking. She also met briefly with representatives of the Community of Sant’Egidio, an anti-poverty organization linked with the Roman Catholic Church.
Melania and Ivanka wore veils to the Vatican on Wednesday although they chose to forgo head scarves when they arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. The women arrived in Saudi Arabia bareheaded, despite Saudi custom that requires women to wear veils or hijabs in public.
The Vatican has similar restrictive rules about what women should wear. Modest black dresses that reach below the knees and veils are considered respectful. The code was never mandatory, but visitors generally observed it out of respect for the centuries-old institution. But the rules have been officially relaxed in recent years.
The decision by the women to wear veils to the Vatican while forgoing them during their visit to Saudi Arabia raised comments in some online forums, with many suggesting that the women chose to forgo head scarves in Saudi Arabia to send a message about women’s rights to the Saudi authorities. The conservative religious kingdom has come under heavy criticism for severely restricting the civil rights of women in the country.
Michelle Obama, Melania’s predecessor, also did not wear a head scarf when she accompanied her husband, President Barack Obama, to Saudi Arabia in 2015 on a condolence visit following the death of King Abdullah. But she wore a black veil when she met Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, in the Vatican back in 2009.
Trump had taken to Twitter to criticize Michelle’s decision to not cover her head when she visited Saudi Arabia in 2015.
“Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf (sic) enemies.”
Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted.We have enuf enemies— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2015
The U.K.’s Theresa May and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel also chose not to cover their heads during recent visits to Saudi Arabia, despite the restrictive laws in the country.
Trump had earlier met with Pope Francis at the apostolic palace in the Vatican for a private discussion. President Trump, First Lady Melania, and Ivanka, were ushered into the palace where they met the prefect of the papal household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.
Trump was then taken up an elevator to meet Pope Francis in his “little throne room,” while the women waited in an anteroom, exchanging pleasantries with Ganswein.
Trump’s meeting with the pope at the Vatican marked the fifth day of his first foreign tour as president. The tour allowed him to visit the seats of three of the world’s major religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Trump and Francis met privately for about half an hour. The details of their discussion were kept private.
Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis came after the two clashed during Trump’s campaign over Trump’s promise to build a wall to stop undocumented Mexican immigrants from entering the U.S. The pontiff had chastised Trump by questioning his Christian faith and saying that building bridges rather walls was more in conformity with Christian standards of brotherly love.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Pope Francis told reporters while flying back home after visiting Brazil in February of 2016, according to CNN.
Francis has advocated consistently for hospitality to people fleeing the bloody civil war in Syria, as part of the Christian duty to help those in need.
Trump had responded to the pope questioning his Christian faith, saying that his comment was “disgraceful.”
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”
However, the two exchanged gifts when they met on Wednesday. Trump presented the pope with books about Martin Luther King Jr., while Francis presented Trump with an olive-shaped medal, an emblem of peace.
Trump is scheduled to travel to Brussels after his Vatican visit. He is expected to attend a NATO summit in Brussels and later a G7 meeting on the island of Sicily in southern Italy.
[Featured Image by Franco Origlia/Getty Images]