Pope, Obama discuss relations between Church and State

Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting in the Vatican, March 27, 2014. Credit: ANSA / L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO

During the March 27 meeting between Pope Francis and President Barack Obama, the two exchanged cordial discussion regarding the state of the Church in the U.S., as well as topics of shared interest.

Lasting approximately 50 minutes long, the meeting marks Obama’s second encounter with a Roman Pontiff since his election in 2008, the first being between him and Benedict XVI in July of 2009.

Upon greeting each other, Obama asked the Pope how he was, expressing twice that it was “wonderful” to meet him, and stating that “It’s a great honor. I’m a great admirer. Thank you so much for receiving me.”

The U.S. president also extended the greetings of his family, observing that “The last time I came to meet your predecessor, I was able to bring my wife and children.”

During the meeting, described as cordial, the U.S. president and the Holy Father exchanged views on current international themes, expressing their hope that in areas immersed with conflict, there would be a greater respect for both humanitarian and international law, and that all parties involved would be able to negotiate a solution.

Regarding bilateral relations and matters regarding the cooperation between Church and State, the two discussed questions of particular relevance for the Church in the United States.

Among the topics touched upon were religious freedom, conscientious objection, and immigration reform. A final point discussed was their shared interest in eradicating all forms of human trafficking throughout the world.

After the meeting concluded the two exchanged gifts, with Obama giving the Pope a box containing a variety of seeds planted in the White House gardens in celebration of the opening of the gardens of the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo to the public earlier this year.

Presenting a second part to his gift, the U.S. president revealed to the pontiff that in his honor a donation of seeds would also be given to a charity, which would provide several tons of fresh produce. The seeds, noted the president, represent the Pope’s commitment to sowing the seeds of global peace.

When presenting the gift to the Pope, the president extended his own invitation to the Holy Father, telling him “If you have a chance and come to the White House, you can see our garden,” to which the pontiff replied “Why not?”

Offering his own gifts to the U.S. president, Pope Francis presented him with two bronze medals, one depicting an angel representing solidarity and peace that is bringing together the northern and southern hemispheres of the Earth, while at the same time is depicted overcoming a dragon.

The second medal commemorates the moment in 1657 when Alexander VII laid the first stone of the north colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica, and reveals the original plan of sculptor Antonio Bernini to include a third colonnade in the Square, but which was never built.

Also presented to Obama was a red-covered copy of Evangelii Gaudium. Upon receiving it, the president commented that “You know I actually will probably read this in the oval office when I am deeply frustrated, and I am sure it will give me strength and calm me down.”

Pope Francis responded to him in English, saying “I hope.”

When parting with the Pope, Obama thanked him in Spanish, saying “Muchos gracias,” and asking him to “Please pray for me and for my family. They are with me on this journey, please pray for them,” and adding that “My girls and wife have to put up with me.”

Following his encounter with the Holy Father, President Obama met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, saying to them “So nice to see you. It’s wonderful to be here.”

In attendance at the encounter between the president and Cardinal Parolin was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.


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