SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert made a special trip Wednesday to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican during his 11-day trade mission to Europe set to end Saturday.
"Took a break from economic development meetings in Rome today to pay our respects to the Holy Father @Pontifex. Grateful for his strong moral leadership," Herbert tweeted, along with a photo of himself and first lady Jeanette Herbert with the pope.
The photo showed the Herberts giving a gift to the leader of the Catholic Church, described in a news release as a piece of hand-painted Native American pottery. "He was most appreciative," the governor said in a statement.
Herbert said he and the first lady "were humbled by the once-in-a-lifetime experience to have a brief exchange with His Holiness, Pope Francis I. As the worldwide leader of 1.2 billion Christians, arguably one of the most recognizable figures in the world, it was an awesome experience to be acknowledged by him."
Pope Francis, the governor said, "was also aware of our state and our unique religious history," a reference to Utah's founding by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City.
The governor also spoke of the pontiff's interactions with others.
"We’ve been told by others of his warm and friendly nature, and particularly about his interest in the less fortunate. Our short visit with him, and especially witnessing him engage with countless Christian pilgrims who gathered in the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica from all around the world, confirmed these sentiments," Herbert said.
He said he and the first lady "expressed our gratitude to him for the great service he renders to the peoples of the world, and thanked him for his strong moral leadership."
On Friday, the governor is scheduled to meet with the Vatican prime minister "to discuss ways to help with food security around the world through engagement with the important humanitarian agencies in Utah," according to his office.
Also expected to be on the agenda are dealing with immigration and refugees.
Neither the governor's meeting with Pope Francis or his meeting Friday with the Vatican prime minister were on the itinerary for the trade mission to Switzerland, France and Italy.6 comments on this story
The governor, who was attending an evening engagement, said in his statement, "It has been said that all roads lead to Rome. We took one and had the choice opportunity to meet with the pope.”
Last Friday, the governor visited the headquarters of Stadler Rail Group, a company that recently opened a new $50 million manufacturing facility near the Salt Lake City International Airport.
In France, trade mission participants visited the International Paris Air Show, considered a showcase for aerospace and defense technology. Nearly two dozen Utah companies sent representatives on the trade mission.