Gov. Gary Herbert took a break from economic development meetings in Rome, part of a longer European trade mission, to shake hands and share a gift with Pope Francis on Wednesday.
Utah’s chief executive, a Latter-day Saint, tweeted a photo of himself with his wife, Jeanette, speaking to the Catholic pontiff.
"Grateful for his strong moral leadership," Herbert wrote.
Herbert later said in a statement that it was a “once in a lifetime experience” to briefly meet with the pope, who the governor said was aware of Utah and the “unique religious history” of the state.
“We’ve been told by others of his warm and friendly nature, and particularly about his interest in the less fortunate,” Herbert said. “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. We 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.”
Herbert and his wife also gave Pope Francis a piece of hand-painted Native American pottery.
The governor is on an 11-day trip to Switzerland, France and Italy aimed at boosting trade to Utah and promote the state with foreign investors.
He visited a Switzerland rail company, whose U.S. headquarters are located in Utah, and then traveled to France to watch the Paris Air Show. He’s in Rome now to learn more about an energy company that has a plant in Utah.
Herbert is expected to end his trip Friday.
The governor is not the only Utah-based leader to meet the pontiff this year. Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sat down with Pope Francis in March for a half-hour discussion at the Vatican about their faiths’ mutual efforts to relieve human suffering, among other topics. It was the first private meeting between a Catholic pontiff and a Latter-day Saint prophet.