ROME — Barack Obama visited the Vatican on Thursday, sitting down for the first time with Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic religion.
Obama was joined by Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, among other aides who accompanied him for the trip.
“We actually didn’t talk a whole lot about social schisms,” Obama told reporters following the meeting, which included a 50-minute private discussion. “His Holiness and the Vatican have been clear on a range of issues. Some of them I differ with. Most of them I heartily agree with.”
According to reports, the two discussed matters such as income inequality, immigration reform, human trafficking, the conflict in Syria, the persecution of Christians worldwide and the desire for global peace.
“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,” Obama stated. “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.”
Subjects such as homosexuality and abortion were largely skirted during the meeting, although Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin is stated to have cited concerns about Obama’s health care plan and Catholic objections to covering abortifacients.
“I pledged to continue to dialogue with the U.S. Conference of [Catholic] Bishops to make sure that we can strike the right balance,” Obama told reporters.
Obama and Pope Francis exchanged gifts during the visit, as Obama gave the pope a seed chest that contained fruit and vegetable seeds that are used in the White House garden. The chest is said to be made out of reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maryland, one of the oldest Catholic institutions in America.
The pope gifted Obama with two medallions, along with a copy of his book The Joy of the Gospel, which centers on Catholic missionary work and assisting the poor.
“You know, I will probably read this in the Oval Office when I am deeply frustrated,” Obama stated. “I am sure that it will give me strength and calm me down.”
As previously reported, Pope Francis has welcomed a variety of world leaders to the Vatican over the past year, including Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The pope also held an ecumenical meeting last spring, greeting Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders, as well as those who ascribe to no faith at all.
“For my part, I wish to assure you, following in the path of my predecessors, of my firm will to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue,” he said, referencing the Second Vatican Council.
Many have also remarked that, while not changing the Vatican’s position on homosexuality and abortion, Pope Francis has given the Roman Catholic Church a more conciliatory tone in regard to addressing prominent moral issues.