President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis on March 27 in an effort to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the Roman Catholic Church. This was the first meeting between Obama and the pope since Francis took over for Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013.
The meeting – which took place in the Pope’s Papal Library within the Vatican – lasted for 52 minutes; 22 minutes over what was originally scheduled.
According to Time Magazine, the White House released an official statement saying the meeting between Obama and Francis would be used as an opportunity to “discuss their shared commitment to combating economic inequality.”
Multiple issues were discussed during the meeting, including the issues of immigration reform and the “common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking throughout the world,” according to a Vatican statement obtained by CNN.
In a press conference held after the meeting, Obama stated, “I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these: the poor, the excluded. And, I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems and not simply thinking in terms of our own narrow self-interests.”
Obama’s visit to the Papal State came two days after Congress heard arguments against the health care mandate, specifically the clause mandating that religious nonprofit organizations provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. While Francis has made his views on abortion and contraceptives clear, it was unlikely that he tread into the politically-charged debate during the meeting.
Obama and the pope exchanged gifts at their meeting – as is customary when two heads of states convene. Obama presented the pontiff with a seed chest made from leather and reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The chest was filled with seeds from the White House garden, and was presented to the pope after it was announced that Francis would be opening the papal summer residence gardens to the public this summer.
Francis, in return, presented Obama with two gold medallions. One was inscribed with a message calling for the peace and solidarity between the two hemispheres, as well as a copy of his book, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Editor’s Note: Information from CNN and Time Magazine was used in this report.