(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received the President of the United States, Barack Obama
on Thursday morning in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican.
President Obama arrived at the meeting through the Hall of St. Ambrose - a bright, high-ceilinged rectangular room decorated with allegories of Felicity, Prudence and the Virtues, Rest and Security. He was preceded by a column of the Gentlemen of His Holiness, and accompanied by the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who walked at his side. Pope Francis made his way briskly from the library to the Sala dei troni – the Hall of Thrones - to greet the President. Listen:
A handshake and a brief exchange of pleasantries, and the Pope and the President were in the library of the Apostolic Palace, sitting across from one another at the Holy Father’s desk. “It’s a great honor,” said the President to the Pope, “I’m a great admirer – thank you so much for receiving me.” President Obama went on to say, “[I bring] greetings from my family,” adding, “the last time I came to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children.”
Then, the room was cleared of journalists, and the Pope and the President, assisted by their interpreters – Msgr. Mark Miles of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, and Alessandra Bonatti of the US State Dept. – spoke privately for nearly an hour: fifty-two minutes, to be precise.
The private meeting concluded and the members of the official White House delegation were presented to Pope Francis, among whom were the Secretary of State, John Kerry, US Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. After the Holy Father greeted the delegation members, the Pope and the President exchanged gifts.
Obama offered his first: a seed box, encased in American leather, and built of wood recovered from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore – the first cathedral constructed in the United States, the cornerstone of which was laid by John Carroll – a Jesuit priest and the first Catholic bishop and Archbishop in the United States; given in honor of the opening of the Pontifical Gardens of the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo to the public, the box contained seeds from fruits and vegetables of the White House garden, and represent a gift of seeds to be made in the name of the Holy Father to charity, the yield of which is hoped to be several tons of fresh produce. “This gift,” reads an official statement from the White House, “honors the commitment of Your Holiness to sow the seeds of global peace for future generations.”
President Obama presented the gift, saying, “If you have a chance and come to the White House, you can see our garden.” Smiling, Pope Francis replied in Spanish, “Como no? [Why not?]”
The Holy Father then gave the President two medals cast in bronze: one a work of Italian artist Guido Veroi, called The Medallion with the Angel – Solidarity and Peace – which illustrates the contemporary challenges of bringing together the world’s northern and southern regions, and harmonizing them while combating all disruptive forces, such as exploitation, intransigent opposition, new forms of colonization, indifference, mistrust and prejudice; the second, a cast of a medal, the original of which was 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, upon receiving the gift.
Pope Francis also gave the President a copy of his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, on the joy of the Gospel. “You know,” said President Obama, “I will actually probably read this when I am in the Oval Office and when I am deeply frustrated,” adding, “I am sure it will give me strength and calm me down.” Speaking in English, Pope Francis replied, “I hope.”
Between the end of the private meeting and the presentation of the US delegation, the number of people in the Library had grown significantly – and there was a flurry of hand-shaking and picture taking. The Papal attendants did not miss a beat, however, conducting the guests smoothly and courteously to the door. “Tell His Holiness,” said the President to the Pope’s translator, Msgr. Miles, “I think His Holiness is the only person who has to put up with more protocol than me.”
On their leave-taking, at the door to the Library, President Obama thanked the Holy Father in Spanish. “Muchas gracias,” said the President to the Pope. Obama went on to say, “Please pray for me and my family,” adding, “they are with me on this journey – pray for them.”