Obama Meets Pope, Gives Him Seeds

President tells Francis, 'I'm a great admirer'

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Mar 27, 2014 6:49 AM CDT | Updated Mar 27, 2014 7:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – President Obama called himself a "great admirer" of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican today with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic nearly hourlong first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception. Obama arrived at the Vatican amid the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church, making his way to greet the pope after a long, slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards and accompanied by ceremonial attendants. The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down at a wooden table in the Papal Library. "It is a great honor. I'm a great admirer," a broadly grinning Obama said. "Thank you so much for receiving me."

The two were scheduled to meet for a half-hour, but their private discussion lasted 52 minutes. Obama seem buoyed by the meeting as they emerged and the pope greeted a handful of Obama's senior advisers. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself "a great admirer of everything you've been doing, as a Catholic, for the church." Obama then presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden, in honor of the pope's announcement earlier this year that he's opening the gardens of the papal summer residence to the public. The chest was custom-made of leather and reclaimed wood from the Baltimore Basilica, one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the US, and inscribed with the date of their meeting. But the relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church remains a fraught one: Vatican officials say Obama will not have left without having heard Francis' views on Obama's health care law and its mandates for contraception coverage.

President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.   (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.   (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.   (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pope Francis welcomes President Barack Obama as Archbishop George Gaenswein, background left, look at them, at the Vatican Thursday, March 27, 2014.   (Gabriel Bouys)
President Obama meets with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pope Francis and President Barack Obama smile as they meet at the Vatican Thursday, March 27, 2014.   (AP Photo/Gabriel Bouys, Pool)
President Obama walks with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pope Francis and President Obama smile as they meet at the Vatican, Thursday, March 27, 2014.   (AP Photo/Gabriel Bouys, Pool)
Pope Francis and President Obama shake hands at the Vatican, Thursday, March 27, 2014.   (AP Photo/Gabriel Bouys, Pool)
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