> ANSA English > News

Obama and Francis find common ground at Vatican

US president invites pope to visit White House garden

27 March, 17:46
Obama and Francis find common ground at Vatican (By Laura Clarke) (ANSA) - Vatican City, March 27 -"Current international themes" were among the issues discussed by United States President Barack Obama and Pope Francis during their "cordial" meeting in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

Their session included a request for the pope's prayers from Obama, who also offered an invitation to the pope to visit the White House garden.

There had been concerns before the session about the many areas where the two leaders do not see eye-to-eye, including Obama's health-care law and its mandates for contraception coverage that have drawn protests from some bishops in the US. However, reports suggest that Obama and Francis chose to focus on those issues where they hold common ground, including peace and respect for the rule of law.

After an initial exchange of pleasantries in the presence of reporters, the leaders spent just over 50 minutes talking privately in English and Spanish about "questions of particular relevance for the Church," a Vatican statement read.

These included "the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform". The two men also expressed their hope for "respect for humanitarian and international law," in conflict situations and for "a negotiated solution between the parties involved".

They concluded their private discussion by stating their common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking throughout the world.

Following the meeting, Obama presented the Pope with a custom-made box of seeds brought from the famous vegetable garden started at the White House by his wife Michelle.

The gift "honors the commitment of Your Holiness to sow the seeds of global peace for future generations," read an official White House statement. "These I think are carrots," said Obama, 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," he explained.

"If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well," the president said. "Why not?" the pope replied in Spanish.

Francis then gave Obama two medals cast in bronze, one showing an angel symbolising peace and solidarity and the other a cast of a medal buried beneath the cornerstone of the north colonnade of St Peter's Basilica by Pope Alexander VII.

"I will treasure that," said the president to the pope on receiving the gift.

Pope Francis also gave Obama a copy of his recent encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, on the joy of the Gospel.

"I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I'm deeply frustrated," Obama said. "I'm sure it will give me strength and calm me down".

Obama took leave of the pope by asking the pontiff to pray for him and his family, who have not accompanied the president on his week-long international mission to the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the Holy See, and Saudi Arabia.

But they are always with him in spirit, Obama added. "They are with me on this journey," he added as he got ready for the next appointments on his busy schedule, including meetings with the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano followed by a bilateral with Premier Matteo Renzi as well as a visit to the Colosseum.

"Pray for them," he asked the pope.