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Two men, representing over two-fifths of all humanity, visited the U.S. this week. Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church and China’s President, Xi Jinping garnered a great deal of attention, albeit for significantly different reasons.

First let’s focus on the pastor to an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the pontiff. I have never been prouder of having been raised Catholic than when Pope Francis was selected by his peers to be the leader of the Catholic Church. At age 76, this Harley-riding Cardinal became the 266th Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis “gets it” even as the Catholic Church lost its moorings in past decades, spending more time on social moralizing, as it neglected the teachings of Jesus about caring for the poor and the “least among us.” Pope Francis is a true champion of the poor and a force for positive change in the world.

The pope addressed the U.S. Congress and will break bread with prisoners while in the U.S. A humble person, he speaks about lifting up persons who are poor, disabled and discarded. He may not walk on water, but he clearly “walks the talk” that the nun teachers of my youth literally beat into me.

China’s President Xi Jinping visit to the United States this week, was highlighted by a high-stakes, scripted, state dinner with President Obama at the White House.

He also met with tech executives touring Boeing and Microsoft companies in Seattle before celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. in New York and being honored with a 21-gun salute in Washington, D.C.

Xi is a man who came of age in the chaotic Mao years and is two years into his tenure of being in control of the China dragon. He immediately set an example, calling for an end to conspicuous consumption, corruption and special treatment for top government officials and Communist Party leaders.

Xi Jinping has set the stage about what is acceptable behavior by top Chinese officials. The president is demanding Chinese Party leaders conduct the people’s business in a more down-to-earth way. He has gone after both “fleas and tigers” (small and major) corrupt officials.

There’s fear and distrust on both sides of the ocean about the true intentions of our countries. Every major world decision will intersect at the corner of Washington, D.C., and Beijing. How this relationship is managed will impact our respective people — and all of humanity.

The U.S./China relationship has the potential of becoming one of great cooperation or one of conflict.

Presidents Obama and Xi will be holding the future of the world in their hands. Let’s hope Pope Francis is praying for them.

Tom Watkins, ex-state superintendent of schools, has worked to build educational and economic ties between the U.S. and China.

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