It sounds at first like a modern day joke:
The heads of Apple and Google and the Pope walk into a bar...
Okay, there's no bar involved, but in the course of a week recently, Pope Francis has had two 15-minute meetings pop up on his calendar that sparked a lot of raised eyebrows:
- Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), and
- Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.
What the heck did they talk about? Nobody is saying, really, but let's piece things together as best we can.
Pope Francis doesn't even have a computer, but he's also not exactly a luddite--having called the Internet a "gift from God ... offering immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity."
Here's what we know about the days in question. Reporters who cover the Pope in Rome noticed that on Friday Jan. 15, he had a 15-minute meeting scheduled with Schmidt. A week later, on Jan. 22, he had a similar short meeting set with Cook.
Obvious questions: Why? Also, what could the Pope and these two titans of the tech industry actually cover in such short meetings?
According to one report, Pope Francis keeps a predictable schedule, during which he gets up at 4:45 a.m., prays and reflects, and says mass at 7 a.m. before breakfast at 8 a.m.
Then he's usually off for a full day of meetings. His meetings on the day with Cook for example, highlight a bit about his relative concerns and interests. (It's worth noting that with the exception of the meetings with Cook and Schmidt, every papal meeting we know about on these days was 30 minutes--not 15.)
Before meeting with Cook, for example, the Pope spent 30 minutes with the president of the Caribbean nation of Dominica--a tiny country with about 70,000 citizens (80 percent Catholic, though), and another 30 minutes with a Catholic cardinal whose job is to be the "prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith."
Afterward, he met with the head of the highest appellate tribunal in the Catholic Church--another half hour meeting, by the way.
Both Cook and the Pope are described as being "keen environmentalists," according to one reporter. There's also the fact that Cook, while not a billionaire himself, has taken a variation of the so-called billionaire's pledge to give away his wealth.
Also interestingly, the Pope made two public pronouncements that I can find after meeting with Cook.
First, he came out against the idea of civil unions, which is currently under debate in the Italian parliament. Cook is openly gay, so I would hope that there was no connection here--and given the Pope's openness toward gay people, it would strike me as unlikely.
Second, however, the Pope made a pronouncement against (of all things), Internet trolls just hours after meeting with Cook. I can't draw the line exactly to their meeting of course, but it certainly is interesting to think it might have been related.
It's also possible that Schmidt or Cook wanted to meet the Pope simply because he's an interesting person--or because they had a spiritual or religious motivation.
According to USA Today, for example, a Vatican official said Schmidt's meeting was "private and not related to the Google parent company's global business."
Finally, it's noting the first ever contacts between Apple and the Vatican. Back in the 1970s, the late Steve Jobs related in an interview, he and Steve Wozniak crank called the Vatican, claiming to be Henry Kissinger and needing to speak with the Pope.
"We got the number of the Vatican and we called the Pope," Jobs reportedly said, "and they started waking people up in the hierarchy ... they actually sent someone to wake up the Pope when finally we just burst out laughing and they realized we weren't Henry Kissinger."