Thursday, 27 March 2014

Obama Meets the Pope


Barack Obama, Pope Francis

President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis in Vatican City today, an opportunity for both world leaders to discuss their shared commitment to combatting economic inequality. "I'm a great admirer," Obama told Francis

President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican, in his second Papal visit and first with the new Pontiff.

“Wonderful meeting you,” Obama told the Pope upon being greeted outside the Papal Library, following a ceremonial procession led by the Vatican’s Swiss Guards.

“It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer,” Obama said. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”

The White House said before the visit that the meeting would be an opportunity for the two world leaders to discuss their shared commitment to combatting economic inequality, an issue Pope Francis has prioritized during his first year in office. Democrats have increasingly used the Pope’s emphasis on inequality as a political cudgel against Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.

But the gathering is also seen as an opportunity for the president to smooth ties with the Vatican and the large Hispanic Catholic population in America whose support for Obama has waned since helping vote him into office. The Vatican has been critical of a measure in Obama’s health care reform law that mandates contraception coverage, and officials said before the meeting that Pope Francis would likely raise those concerns.

Pope Francis, who was TIME’s Person of the Year in 2013, is widely popular globally and in America, where 8 in 10 Catholics viewed him favorably in a recent Pew Research Center poll.

“He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera before the meeting.

The White House said Obama presented Pope Francis with “a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden,” noting that the Pontiff said earlier this month that he would open the gardens of the papal summer residence to the public.

“I bring greetings from my family,” Obama told the Pope upon meeting him. “The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children.”

Obama, on a week-long tour in Europe that has primarily focused on regional security amid recent tension with Russia, is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican.

-with reporting from Zeke J Miller


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