President Obama met with Pope Francis at the Vatican last Thursday, March 27th. Obama considers himself a “great admirer” of the religious leader and finally got the chance to tell him so in person. Despite anticipations of disagreements over issues like abortion and contraceptives, America’s first African American President and the Catholic Church’s first Latin American Pope discussed more common ground issues of income inequality and ongoing struggles for world peace. While the two had originally planned to meet for only a half hour, they seemed to get along well and ended up speaking for over 50 minutes with each other.
President Obama did admit that in a separate meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis’ second-in-command, the topic of contraceptives in the Affordable Care Act did come up, and the President defended that most religious organizations had exemptions to the mandate. He also promised to “continue a dialogue with the U.S. Conference of Bishops to make sure we can strike the right balance.”
The two world leaders also exchanged gifts. President Obama gave the Pope a chest made of mahogany from the Baltimore Basilica, the first Cathedral in the US, filled with seeds of fruits and vegetables from the White House gardens. When giving the chest of seeds, the President invited Pope Francis to visit the gardens in person, to which he responded in his native Spanish, “Why not?”
The Pope also had some gifts for Obama: two medallions “that symbolize ‘the need for solidarity and peace between the northern and southern hemispheres,’ writes Carrie Budoff Brown” and a copy of Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation by the Pope that Obama has publicly quoted before. The President said that he will read it in the Oval Office so that it will “give [him] strength and calm [him] down.”