Pope Francis has first meeting with President Obama

United States President Barack Obama and Pope Francis met for 52 minutes at the Vatican on March 27, in the first meeting between the two leaders.

They discussed international conflicts and the importance of humanitarian and international law, as well as issues of poverty and injustice.

According to the Vatican, “the parties discussed questions of particular relevance for the Church, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection”.

The Vatican described the meeting as “cordial”.

In a separate meeting, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, raised the Church’s concern over the president’s healthcare legislation that requires insurers and employers to cover contraceptive costs in their insurance plans.

It has drawn criticism from the American bishops, who have objected on the grounds of conscience and freedom of religion.

“Most religious organisations are entirely exempt,” Mr Obama told media after the meetings.

He promised further dialogue with the US bishops on the issue.

At least 43 Catholic organisations have filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration seeking the exemption that the President claims they are entitled to receive.

The US bishops have pressed for broader exemptions.

Pope Francis and Mr Obama spoke about challenges to world peace and justice for the poor and areas of shared concern such as immigration reform and a commitment to ending human trafficking.

After their meeting Francis gave Mr Obama two medallions and a copy of his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

According to media, the Pope handed him the book saying in Spanish: “This, for when you are bored”.

Mr Obama replied: “You know, I actually will probably read this when I’m in the Oval Office [of the White House in Washington DC], when I am deeply frustrated, and I am sure it will give me strength and will calm me down.”

“I hope,” Pope Francis said.

This was the 28th encounter between a US president and a pope since Benedict XV received Woodrow Wilson in 1919.



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