President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis for the first time this week as the two world leaders explored their differences on issues such as religious freedom, abortion, and gay marriage.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House tried to downplay
its differences with the church going into Thursday's meeting. Similarly, a statement released by the Vatican beforehand made reference to the "complex phase" of the administration's relationship with Catholic leadership.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser at the White House, told WSJ that the meeting would give Obama and Pope Francis a chance "to get to know each other personally" and discuss mutual interests.
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The president reportedly met Pope Francis outside the Papal Library at the Vatican around 10 a.m.
"Wonderful meeting you," Obama told Pope Francis, as per WSJ. "It is a great honor. I'm a great admirer. The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children."
Obama gifted the pontiff a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House garden, according to CNN.
"These I think are carrots," the president said, holding a pouch. "Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States in Baltimore."
In return, the pope reportedly gave the president a copy of "Evangelii Gaudium," or "The Joy of the Gospel."
"I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I'm deeply frustrated. I'm sure it will give me strength and calm me down," the president said.
Obama's visit to Italy also included meetings with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President Giorgio Napolitano, according to CNN.
"The whole world is suffering, and when you have two great leaders meet to discuss the world's economic problems, you have to have hope it will make a difference," Salvatore Mucci, a 44-year-old coffee bar worker, told CNN.
Obama met with Pope Francis' predecessor Benedict XVI when the president was in Italy in 2009 for the G-8 summit.
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