Pope Francis Beware
Have Obama’s hopes for a ‘Francis bounce’ been dashed? After President describes first ever meeting with Pope as ‘incredibly moving’, Vatican rebuffs him with statement emphasising differing views on birth control
- Obama arrived this morning at the Vatican's ornate grounds
- After a slow procession he was introduced to Pope Francis
- Obama said that it was wonderful and a great honour to meet the Pontiff
- Their private discussion went over by nearly half hour
- Obama presented the Pope with a chest of fruit and vegetable seeds
- It is hoped the seeds will be planted in gardens of the papal residence
- Pope Francis has a 76 per cent approval rating in the U.S. according to poll
By TARA BRADY
PUBLISHED: 05:06 EST, 27 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:20 EST, 27 March 2014
One is a world leader who has been praised for his humility and outlook on the world.
The other is an American president, once the international superstar of the political stage.
So it is no surprise that President Barack Obama has travelled to the Vatican in Rome possibly to get some tips from the popular Pope Francis who now even has own weekly glossy magazine.
But his hopes of learning a thing or two from the 'Francis effect' may have been dashed after both parties released very different statements about their first meeting this morning.
Obama stressed their common ground over issues of poverty and inequality while Vatican officials emphasised sharp differences over abortion and birth control.
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Easygoing: Obama said that Pope Francis appears to be uncomfortable with the material 'frills' associated with the position of pontiff
The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down
Lots to talk about: The President is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican
The president described himself as 'incredibly moved' by his nearly hour-long session with the popular pontiff.
He said the two spent most time discussing the plight of the poor and the marginalised as well as regions of conflict and the elusive nature of peace around the world.
Talks: Pope Francis (left) meets with President Barack Obama at the Vatican this morning
Historic visit: Pope Francis (left) meets with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Vatican
Pope Francis and President Obama shake hands at the Vatican this morning where they met for the first time
Sharing a joke: Both the Pope Francis and President Barack Obama look in good spirits as they exchange gifts
Pope Francis (right) walks through the Papal Library with President Barack Obama during the official visit
Although Obama and the church remain deeply split over social issues, Obama considers the pontiff a kindred spirit on issues of inequality, and their private meeting in the Papal Library ran longer than scheduled.
After they emerged to cameras, Francis presented Obama with a copy of his papal mission statement decrying a global economic system that excludes the poor. Obama said he would keep it at the White House.
'You know, I actually will probably read this when I'm in the Oval Office, when I am deeply frustrated and I am sure it will give me strength and will calm me down,' Obama said.
'I hope,' the pope responded.
Catholic 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 U.S. and inscribed with the date of their meeting.
'If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,' Obama said.
Pope Francis and President Barack Obama exchange gifts as they meet at the Vatican this morning
Obama called himself a 'great admirer' of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican during an official visit
Their historic first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception
The pope responded 'Why not,' in Spanish. Obama later joked that there's more pageantry surrounding a Vatican visit than at the White House.
'His Holiness is probably the only person who has to put up with more protocol than me,' Obama said.
In a brief departure from all the formality, the support stilts being used to prop up a gift from Francis repeatedly gave way, causing an audible crash that captured Obama's attention. Eventually, aides gave up on using the stilts to hold up the gift.
As Obama departed, he said to the pope, 'Muchas gracias.' Then in English he added: 'Please pray for me and my family.'
Obama then presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden
Important visit: President Barack Obama, centre left, walks with Pope Francis, in the Vatican
Their historic first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis pose for photographs at the Vatican in Rome today
It was an echo of how Francis usually ends his meetings, asking for people to pray for him.
'They are with me on this journey,' Obama said of his family. He said his wife and children 'have to put up with me.'
Obama is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican.
Despite the president and pope both appearing tense at the start of the audience, when they initially greeted one another, but they were all smiles by the end of the meeting and seemed to have found a rapport, though they spoke through interpreters.
Later, Obama recalled the meeting as an elevated discussion about the role of empathy in public and private life.
Pope Francis (left) speaks with President Barack Obama during their first official meeting today
Pope Francis (centre) poses with President Barack Obama (sixth left), US Secretary of State John Kerry (fifth right) and members of the U.S. delegation
'It's the lack of empathy that makes it very easy for us to plunge to wars,' he said. 'It's the lack of empathy that allows us to ignore the homeless on the streets.'
But he also said that while he shared the pope's economic views, he didn't expect Francis to form a coalition or partnership with him on any issue.
'His job is a little more elevated,' Obama said with a chuckle. 'We're down on the ground, dealing with the often profane, and he's dealing with higher powers.'
With his sinking poll numbers, he would not be blamed for seeking some reflected glory from a pope who, one year into his pontificate, is viewed as an agent of change in the Roman Catholic Church.
The White House is still recovering from what aides call a 'lost year' after a dip in popularity for the president.
'He needs the Francis bump,' Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at The Catholic University of America, told Politico.
According to a Gallup poll published yesterday Pope Francis has a 76 per cent approval rating among Americans.
The convoy of U.S. President Barack Obama in front of St Peter's basilica before a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican
U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in a car at the San Damaso courtyard for a meeting with Pope Francis
The motorcade of U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at the Vatican to meet Pope Francis in Vatican City
U.S. President Barack Obama is helped out of his car as he arrives at the Vatican this morning
It's a change of pace for Obama following three days of working to secure European unity against Russia's aggressive posture toward Ukraine.
Obama visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, a cordial meeting that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and Obama on abortion.
The relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church remains a fraught one.
Vatican officials say Obama will not leave without having heard Francis' views on Obama's health care law and its mandates for contraception coverage.
But in Francis, the White House sees the popular pope and his emphasis on economic disparity as a form of moral validation of the president's economic agenda.
U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at the San Damaso courtyard for a meeting with Pope Francis in Vatican City
Swiss guards wait as U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in a car at the San Damaso courtyard for a meeting with Pope Francis
President Barack Obama walks past Swiss Guards during his arrival at the Vatican this morning
'Given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks it carries enormous weight,' Obama said in an 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.'
Several presidents have found allies if not comfort in the pope.
President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II famously shared an antipathy for the former Soviet Union, Reagan the Cold War warrior and the pope a Polish priest who fought communism in his country and later in Europe.
'Sometimes in these meetings there are compatible personalities,' said Paul Begala, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and a Catholic himself.
President Barack Obama, left, is welcomed by Archbishop George Gaenswein, prefect of the papal household
President Barack Obama is welcomed by Papal gentlemen as he arrives at the Vatican to meet Pope Francis
He recalled being with Clinton when the president met John Paul II in Denver.
'They were only supposed to meet alone for five minutes,' he said in an interview earlier this year.'"Those two gregarious, charismatic men sat in that room for an hour without another soul in there.'
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, at the Vatican this week trying to secure Francis' attendance in Philadelphia next year, said he expected the Obama-Francis meeting to be good for both the U.S. and the Vatican.
'We have the most important religious figure in the world as part of that meeting, and one of the most important political leaders, so anytime the church and politics come together is an important moment for dialogue, discussion and the commitment to the common good,' Chaput told reporters on Tuesday at the Vatican.
Still, there are difficult areas of discord between U.S. bishops and the Obama administration over abortion and the administration's health care overhaul.
U.S. bishops were among the most outspoken opponents of Obamacare, objecting to its mandatory coverage of contraception.
The Supreme Court this week seemed divided when hearing arguments in a case in which companies argued that they have religious rights and can object to such coverage based on such beliefs.
President Obama visits Rome's ancient Colosseum
President Barack Obama arrives at Rome Airport before a round of talks including a visit with Pope Francis and the Italian President and Prime Minister
President Barack Obama arrives at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Fiumicino, near Rome
Vatican officials noted that during the recent visit of Secretary of State John Kerry with his Vatican counterpart Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the cardinal raised the issue of the health care mandate.
POPE FRANCIS AMONG 'WORLD'S GREAT THINKERS'
Prospect Magazine has named Pope Francis as one of the 50 most influential thinkers in the world - the only religious leader to make the cut.
Last year's winner was the atheist Richard Dawkins.
The public can now vote on who should be crowned the most influential thinker based on their views on politics, economics, science and philosophy.
Jonathan Derbyshire, managing editor, told The Guardian: 'The Pope has really led, individually, the regeneration of the Vatican.
'He has really caught a public mood.
'He's there not as a religionist but as a social thinker.'
Others on the list include French economist Pascal Lamy, author Arundhati Roy, writer and broadcaster Mary Beard, activist Naomi Klein and physicist Peter Higgs.
The Vatican statement issued after that meeting said Parolin had 'expressed the concern of the U.S. bishops for the reforms in relation to the guarantee of religious freedom and conscientious objection.'
Anticipating that the issue will be a topic of their meeting, Catholics for Choice published an ad in the International New York Times today as an open letter to Obama declaring that 'Francis' interpretation of church teachings does not represent that of the majority of Catholics.'
Francis faithfully backs church teaching on abortion - he has said he's a 'son of the church' - but his emphasis and tone are elsewhere.
He has said he wants his church to be more of a missionary, welcoming place for wounded souls rather than a moralising church.
Francis' attention to poverty has also captured the attention of Republicans, prompting some to stake out high-profile anti-poverty positions.
The president won the Catholic vote in both of his elections, helped by heavy support from Hispanic Catholics. Some of that support has waned since.
Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center found that the pope remains hugely popular, with more than eight in 10 U.S. Catholics saying they have a favorable view of the pontiff.
45-CAR MOTORCADE AND MACHINE GUNS VS 130 GUARDS IN TIGHTS: HOW DO THE SECRET SERVICE AND SWISS GUARD MATCH UP?
They both have the same jobs - to protect two of the world's most important leaders.
Yet could they look anymore different?
Members of the Swiss Guards stood to attention outside the Vatican as President Barack Obama arrived with his entourage of Secret Service personnel this morning.
The motorcade of President Barack Obama arrives at the Vatican to meet Pope Francis this morning
The President, as always when travelling out of town, arrived with his motorcade which normally consists of about 45 cars.
While the limousine itself is maintained by the Secret Service, motorcade support vehicles are
maintained by the White House Military Office.
Today, onlookers got a glimpse inside the presidential car and his heavily armoured and intimidating security holding machine guns.
Protection: Members of the Secret Service armed with machine guns are noticeably different in appearance compared to the Swiss Guards
The President arrived with his motorcade which normally consists of about 45 cars
In contrast, the Swiss Guards, dressed in brightly coloured uniforms, are a tiny force responsible for the Pope's safety including the Apostolic Palace.
They act as the de facto armed forces of Vatican City, the world's tiniest sovereign state.
The 130 members of the Swiss Guard are required to be Catholic, unmarried Swiss citizens who have completed Swiss military service.
They need to be at least 5ft 8in tall and between the ages of 19 and 30.
Guards are expected to be ready to lay down their lives in defence of the Pope and are supposed to be of impeccable moral and religious character.
Traditional: President Barack Obama leaves past Swiss guards after meeting with Pope Francis
They can be seen on guard outside the Vatican every day, dressed in striped blue, red and gold uniforms and carrying halberds as their traditional weapons.
They are also equipped with modern firearms – the same handguns and machine guns which are used by the Swiss army.
The idea that the uniform was designed by Michelangelo is a myth – it is simply a legacy of military uniforms that were common in Europe during the Renaissance.
It was revealed yesterday how three members of Barack Obama’s elite personal guards had to be sent back to America after a night of drinking in which one of them was found passed out in a hotel hallway.
Swiss guards wait as President Barack Obama arrives in a car at the San Damaso courtyard
The secret service agents were disciplined after going out for a night of drinking the day before the president was set to arrive in Holland, the Washington Post reported.
Word of another scandal to hit the agency came as the president was midway through a weeklong, four-country trip to Europe and Saudi Arabia.
The Secret Service was alerted to the situation by U.S. Embassy officials in the Netherlands after hotel staff reported finding the drunk agent in the hotel, said a person familiar with the situation, who wasn’t authorised to discuss the alleged behaviour on the record and demanded anonymity.
The other two agents were deemed complicit because they didn’t intervene despite being in a position to assist the drunken agent or calm his behaviour, the person said.