US Vice-President Pence to Pope Francis: you made me a hero

VATICAN CITY — U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence told Pope Francis, “You made me a hero" back home by granting him a private audience at the Vatican on Friday.

The pontiff and the vice-president had a private hour-long conservation. Pence was beaming when the rest of his delegation was ushered into the papal library after the one-to-one talk.

The hero description apparently referred to Pence's roots in a Catholic family. He later became an evangelical Christian.

Before journalists were ushered out of the library, Pence told Francis: "I want to extend the warmest greeting on the part of President Donald Trump, who so enjoyed his visit here.'' Pence said Trump, who also met with the pontiff, had asked him to send along his regards.

The audience came on the same day that Trump is attending an anti-abortion rally in Washington, the first sitting U.S. president to do so in the history of the annual March for Life’s history.

Pence, his wife and daughter-in-law were greeted at Rome’s Ciampino airport by the U.S ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, and her husband, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Pence later presented Newt Gingrich, who oversaw the impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton. to the pope, saying, “Speaker Gingrich, of course.”

Francis smiled warmly throughout the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of the audience. Pence presented Francis with a large, plain wooden cross, which he explained was made from wood from a tree on the grounds of the vice-president's official residence in Washington.

Francis gave Pence five bound books of his writings as pope, as well as a copy of the annual peace message.

Pence’s visit and audience - at an hour's length, a remarkably long one at the Vatican, especially for one not involving a head of state - comes amid the Senate impeachment trial of Trump.

After the audience with Francis, Pence was headed to separate meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Giuseppe Conte.

Frances D'Emilio, The Associated Press