VATICAN CITY (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden found common cause with Pope Francis on Friday at the Vatican for a global commitment to fund cancer research.
Biden spoke at a conference on regenerative medicine and ended up sharing the stage with the pope, who used his own speech to decry a profit-driven medical research system. With light streaming through stained glass into an ornate auditorium, the pope called for empathy for the sick and communal guarantees that all have access to care.
“Research, whether in academia and industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person,” the pope said.
As he’s done several times before, the pope gave voice to the moral argument behind a cause that Biden and President Barack Obama have sought to elevate, helping to skewer traditional partisan divides that tend to overtake political issues in the U.S. The Obama administration has turned to this pope for support on climate change, poverty, rapprochement with Cuba and refugees.
For Biden, the stately corridors and costumed Swiss Guards of Vatican City were an about-face from the scene just hours earlier, when the vice president visited Iraq on an unannounced visit. In Iraq, Biden worked to smooth over deep sectarian tensions threatening Iraq’s political system; at the Holy See, he appealed for all religions to see defeating cancer as a means to express values of faith, love and hope.
Biden told the scientists, researchers and Catholic leaders that as he met with Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders in Iraq the day before, each had wanted to talk to him about one thing: the pope.
“I think that’s a pretty incredible thing,” the vice president said.
Biden, who lost a son to cancer last year, called cancer a “constant emergency” for the planet and urged philanthropists, corporations and governments to increase funding and information-sharing in a bid to “end cancer as we know it.” Though he said the world is on the cusp of unprecedented breakthroughs, he added that still not done enough is being done.
“Cancer’s not a national problem, it’s an international problem,” Biden said. “It’s a human problem. It affects all races, all religions.”
Before taking the stage, the pope greeted Biden privately in a room backstage, where the two exchanged small tokens, the White House said. They were also seen smiling and chatting together as they greeted conference attendees after their speeches, joined by the vice president’s surviving son, Hunter Biden, and son-in-law Howard Krein, a physician who’s been involved in Biden’s cancer push.
Last year, Biden’s eldest son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died from brain cancer after his family’s hopes of a last-minute medical breakthrough fell short. Months later, his father declared a “moonshot” to cure cancer when he announced he wouldn’t run for president.
Since then, Joe Biden has launched a task force with Obama’s blessing and the White House asked Congress for $1 billion over two budget years for research. Only a fraction has been approved so far.
While at the Vatican, Biden met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, at the gold-adorned Treaty Room of the Apostolic Palace. Then he left Vatican City for Palazzo Chigi, the Italian premier’s office in Rome, where a military band and honor guard greeted Biden and Premier Matteo Renzi by playing the American and Italian national anthems.
The two held a private meeting before Biden returned to Washington.