Pope Francis sat down with President Obama yesterday, and two translators, in the Vatican for a nearly hour long audience which touched on topics such as contraception, the welfare of the poor and the resurgence of the pope’s image in the international community. President Obama presented the Pope with a seed chest that was custom made from reclaimed wood from a Basilica in Baltimore.
Obama told the pope that he brings along his families greetings. Although this is the first time President Obama has sat down with Pope Francis, it is not the first time he has had an audience with the pope. Obama, and his family, were able to travel to the Vatican and meet Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
There was considerable tradition and extravagance when Obama arrived, as he had to make his way through a long procession in order to greet the pope. When the two met Obama spoke first saying, “Wonderful meeting you, I’m a great admirer.” The Pope answered “Thank you sir, thank you.”
The two leaders were only scheduled to meet for a half of an hour, however the private conversation lasted almost 52 minutes. John Kerry, who is Catholic, was also on hand and was able to speak briefly with the Pope telling him he is a “great admirer of everything you’ve been doing, as a Catholic, for the church.”
The seed chest which President Obama gave to Pope Francis as a token of gratitude for allowing the visit was filled with vegetable seeds and fruit seeds that are used in the White House Garden. The gift is in honor of the Pope’s decision to open the papal summer residence to the public this year.
Obama becomes the ninth president to visit the Vatican officially. He was recently on a weeklong trip that brought him to four different countries in the effort of securing unity in Europe against the aggressive stance Russia has taken in the Ukraine.
Obama’s last visit to the Vatican was filled with a little bit more tension as the differences between the Obama administration’s stance on abortion and the strict views of the former Pope were evident. There are still many issues that the White House and the Vatican do not see eye to eye on but this visit was marked more with a view on a commitment to “fighting poverty and income inequality,” then one based on social differences.
In an interview with an Italian daily that was published before Obama’s visit to the Vatican, the president said that “the pope challenges us. He implores us to remember people, families, the poor.” He also added that Pope Francis is always inviting people to reflect on the true “dignity of man.”
Many Pope’s have enjoyed friendly relationships with U.S. Presidents. As Pope Francis continues to emerge as one of the stronger voices in the international community there will be more and more foreign dignitaries visiting and possibly referencing the Pope’s words. President Obama’s 52 minute discussion with the Pope and his gift for the pontiff reflects the US’s commitment to recognizing the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
By Nick Manai