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Pope Francis congratulates Biden, stepping into political fray

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) - Pope Francis offered his “blessings and congratulations” to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in a phone call on Thursday, seeking to rebuild rapport with Washington after four years of sometimes contentious relations with President Donald Trump.

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The conversation was announced by the transition team for Biden, who will become only the second Roman Catholic president in U.S. history when he enters the White House on Jan. 20. Trump has yet to concede and is pursuing legal challenges.

Francis has clashed with Trump on a number of issues, including China, climate change, Cuba and immigration.

“The president-elect thanked His Holiness for extending blessings and congratulations and noted his appreciation for His Holiness’ leadership in promoting peace, reconciliation, and the common bonds of humanity around the world,” the transition team said in a statement.

“(Biden) expressed his desire to work together on the basis of a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities,” it said.

In February 2016, when the Republican Trump was still a candidate for the presidency, Francis criticized his promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico, saying a man who wanted to build walls is “not Christian.”

After Trump was elected, Francis criticized the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord to limit global warming and his administration’s policy separating migrant families entering the United States.

In an interview with Reuters in 2018, Francis said he was saddened by Trump’s decision to roll back a deal the Vatican helped broker during the previous Obama administration to encourage trade and travel with Cuba.

Biden, who attends Mass on Sundays, will be the first American Catholic president since his fellow Democrat John F. Kennedy in the 1960s.

Conservative American Catholics, many of whom voted for Trump, have said priests should not give communion to Biden because of his views favoring abortion rights.

Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder in Washington and Philip Pullella in Rome, Writing by Philip Pullella, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller

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