UK & World News

  • 27 March 2014, 13:42

Barack Obama Meets Pope At The Vatican

Barack Obama has told Pope Francis he is a "great admirer" and invited him at the White House during a historic first meeting between the two leaders.

The talks in the Vatican's the Papal Library lasted nearly an hour, running longer than scheduled.

The Pontiff and the President smiled at each other and shook hands at the start of the meeting.

"It is a great honour. I'm a great admirer," Mr Obama said after greeting Francis with a slight bow as they shook hands.

"Thank you so much for receiving me."

Mr Obama made the spontaneous invitation as he was giving Francis a symbolic gift of seeds from the White House garden.

"If you have a chance, you can come to the White House and you can see the garden," he said.

Francis, responding in Spanish, said "Como no?" ("Why not?")

The Pope offered Mr Obama two medallions and a copy of his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.

It is likely that Francis will travel to the US in September 2015 for the church's World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Popes have attended these family celebrations five of the past seven times they have been held, and Francis has put family issues at the forefront of his agenda.

Mr 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.

The US president later joked: "His Holiness is probably the only person who has to put up with more protocol than me."

The two were all smiles when they emerged from the private meeting, and seemed to have found a rapport, though they spoke through interpreters.

Mr Obama is in Italy as part of a European tour.

He is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican and meet the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

He also visited the previous Pontiff, Benedict XVI, in 2009 - a cordial meeting that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and the president on abortion.

The Argentine-born Francis, who has just marked his first year in office, has energised the faithful with his humble attitude and his call to help the world's poor.

Mr Obama, six years into his presidency, has seen his poll numbers sinking.

"Given his great moral authority, when the Pope speaks it carries enormous weight," Mr Obama said in the interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published ahead of his papal visit.

"He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion."