Pope Francis (R) and U.S. President Barack Obama react as they exchange gifts during a private audience at the Vatican City March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Gabriel Bouys/ Pool (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) March 27, 2014
The historic meeting between Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama took place on Thursday at the Vatican. Like many Catholics who gushed at the sight and presence of the pontiff, Mr Obama admitted he is a great admirer of the former Buenos Aires archbishop.
He said Pope Francis, acknowledged as a very influential global leader, is an inspiration and has great moral authority that he could make people rethink their old attitudes.
The meeting between the two powerful leaders is also a study in similarity and contrast as they share common views on economic equality and poverty, but differ greatly when it comes to more controversial issues such as abortion.
Their meeting at the papal library lasted for almost an hour. They were joined by Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice and several top aides.
Pope Francis gifted Mr Obama with two medallions and a copy of the apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, which the president promised to read in his Oval Office to give him strength and calm him down during periods of deep frustration.
Mr Obama, in turn, gave the pope seeds from the White House garden.
Mr Obama said he is impressed with the church's position on economic issues under Pope Francis and had quoted the pontiff in several speeches the past few months, including a talk about income inequality he delivered in fall.
Ahead of the Vatican meeting, the U.S. president told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, "He doesn't just proclaim the Gospel, he lives it. We've all been moved by his humility and acts of mercy. His deeds, the simple act of reaching out to the least of these, is a reminder that every one of us has an individual responsibility to live in a righteous way."
The meeting with the leader of the 1.2-billion strong Roman Catholic Church is actually a rest-stop for Mr Obama in his six-day European tour which focuses on the Crimean situation.
The president, whose popularity has waned over the years while the pope's continues to rise, admitted he has differences with Pope Francis's views, saying, "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."