When Obama Met Pope Francis: The Two Swap Presents, Have A Chat, Make Plans For Round Two
Two of the world's most influential leaders finally came face-to-face Thursday. President Obama met with Pope Francis for the first time at the Vatican's Papal Library for a one-on-one, which lasted just under an hour. The two exchanged gifts: a custom-made seed chest for the pontiff, and a copy of the papal blueprint for the president. After shaking hands with His Holiness, Obama said he was a "great admirer" of Pope Francis, and passed on greetings from the First Family.
Though their first encounter was amicable, the two aren't exactly besties. The Pope has openly disagreed with the White House on some of its policies, including contraception provisions in the Affordable Care Act; immigration laws that deport individuals and separate families; and gay marriage. Still, White House officials stated the Obama was looking forward to discussing common ground, namely their shared commitments to fighting poverty and income inequality.
During Thursday's visit, the President invited Pope Francis to the White House, after gifting him with the seed chest that included a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House garden. The gift was partly inspired by an earlier announcement that the Pope will open the gardens of his summer residence to the public.
In exchange for the present, the pope gave Obama two medallions in addition to a copy of his book The Joy of the Gospel , in which he criticizes the global economic system and calls for a focus on the world's poor. “And this, for when you are bored,” the pope said in Spanish.
"I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down," the President told him.
In an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Obama praised the pope and his message. "Given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks, it carries enormous weight," Obama told the paper. "He doesn’t just proclaim the Gospel, he lives it. We’ve all been moved by his humility and acts of mercy. His deeds, the simple act of reaching out to the least of these, is a reminder that every one of us has an individual responsibility to live in a righteous way."
So will Francis take Obama up on the White House offer? "Como no?" the pope responded, meaning "why not?" in Spanish. Since taking office in 2013, Pope Francis has yet to visit America. In March, House Speaker John Boehner also extended a formal invite for the pontiff to address Congress.
The two were later joined by a U.S. delegation that included including Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and press secretary Jay Carney.