Melania Trump had Pope Francis bless her rosary. Her spokesman later confirmed that the First Lady is indeed Catholic. Her family in Slovenia was apparently atheist, but most Slovenians are Catholic. (Donald and Melania were married in an Episcopalian Church in 2005.) Also, Melania wore a veil when she met Pope Francis, but she did not wear a veil when she visited with the King of Saudi Arabia.
Melania Trump wore a veil to the Vatican on Wednesday to meet the pope, but no head covering a few days earlier to meet the king of Saudi Arabia, a religiously conservative country where most women cover themselves up from head to toe.
Why the difference? The answer is a complicated mix of personal preference, diplomatic protocol and religious dictates.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said Mrs. Trump’s decision to wear a black lace veil known as a mantilla followed Vatican protocol that women who have an audience with the pope must wear long sleeves, formal black clothing and a veil to cover their head. In Saudi Arabia, however, the government did not request that Mrs. Trump wear a head covering known as a hijab, or a headscarf, Grisham said.
The Vatican’s rules of attire are not strictly enforced. Many women, including high-ranking dignitaries, have visited the pontiff with their heads uncovered, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 and Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s top civilian leader, this month.
Many women wear veils out of respect. Mrs. Trump is Catholic, which likely made accompanying President Donald Trump for a meeting with the leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Roman Catholics all the more meaningful to her.
When a Vatican official handed her a rosary, the first lady immediately gave it to the pope to bless. She spent time in front of a statue of the Madonna at the Vatican’s children’s hospital and laid flowers at its feet. She also prayed in the hospital chapel.
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