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President Biden kicks off his trip abroad with a long day of diplomacy in Rome

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden is about to attend that U.N. climate summit in Scotland as well. But first, he's in Rome meeting with G-20 leaders. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, Biden's day began with a deeply personal meeting and ended with an important makeup session.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Biden landed in the middle of the night. After just a few hours of sleep, he launched into a long day. Biden's massive 85-vehicle motorcade snaked through Rome's narrow streets, trundling from meeting to meeting to meeting to meeting. The first stop - a visit with a man Biden has made it clear he idolizes, Pope Francis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You are the most significant warrior for peace I've ever met.

UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: (Non-English language spoken).

BIDEN: And with your permission, I'd like to be able to give you a coin.

DETROW: Biden is just the second Catholic U.S. president. He and Francis have both focused on many of the same key issues, including confronting climate change, as well as a global rise in nationalism and populism. Biden and Francis are also both older men at the end of their long careers. They've both faced their share of skeptics. That's something Biden seemed to be addressing when he told the pope about another famous American who had an unexpected final act - baseball's Satchel Paige, a Negro League pitcher who wasn't allowed into the major leagues until he was in his 40s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: And usually, pitchers lose their arm when they're 35.

UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: (Non-English language spoken).

BIDEN: He pitched a win on his 47th birthday.

DETROW: The meeting comes as a group of conservative American bishops pushes to bar Biden from communion because of his support for abortion rights. Francis has previously brushed off this effort. Asked later in the day if it came up, Biden said the pope told him he was a good Catholic and that he should keep receiving communion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DETROW: After sessions with Italy's president and prime minister, it was on to the day's final meeting. This summer, Biden enraged French President Emmanuel Macron by making a defense deal with Australia. The problem? It meant France lost a big submarine contract. Plus, France was blindsided by the news. Macron even yanked the country's ambassador to the U.S. The White House has worked to repair the rift, and in the evening, Macron was on the steps of France's Embassy to the Vatican, smiling as he greeted Biden. Inside, Biden talked up the long relationship between the two allies and was contrite.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: What happened was - to use an English phrase - what we did was clumsy. It was not done with a lot of grace.

DETROW: He said he thought France had been told beforehand, which it hadn't. Macron seemed ready to move on. He said the two leaders had clarified what they needed to clarify.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: And now what's important is precisely to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future.

DETROW: Then it was back to the American ambassador's ornate residence, where Biden is staying. One long day of diplomacy done, four more to go.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.