POTUS meets the Pope! President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis for the first time ever at the Vatican on Thursday, March 27.
The Pontiff and president exchanged firm handshakes and greeted each other with smiles before a room filled with photographers. "Wonderful meeting you," Obama said to the Pontiff, as reported by ABC News. "I'm a great admirer."
Both parties then walked into the library and sat down on opposite sides of the pope's desk. "I bring greetings from my family," the president said of his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha. "The last time I came here to meet your predecessor [Pope Benedict XVI], I was able to bring my wife and children."
Before the two started their discussion, POTUS gifted the pope with a custom-designed chest, filled with a medley of fruit and veggie seeds from Obama's own backyard! "If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well," he said. The pope returned the gift exchange with a plaque. Obama's first official visit with Pope Francis lasted about 50 minutes, which according to ABC News was longer than many had expected.
The first papal visit to the U.S. was made by Paul VI back in October 1965 with President Lyndon B. Johnson in NYC. Since then, three popes have visited the U.S., including Pope John Paul II, who had met with every president from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton over the course of seven visits.
According to a statement released by the White House back in January, the president's conversation with His Holiness was to be based on "their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality."
Obama gave an interview with Italian paper Corriere della Sera prior to his visit with the Pope, to discuss the focus of the meeting. "Given his great moral authority, when the Pope speaks it carries enormous weight," POTUS said. "It doesn't mean we agree on every issue, but his voice is one that I think the world needs to hear. He challenges us."
"He implores us to remember the people, especially the poor, who are affected by the economic decisions we make."