President Obama met Pope Francis this morning at the Vatican in a meeting that lasted a little under an hour and featured Obama giving the pontiff a box of seeds.
Obama brought along Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, press secretary Jay Carney and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
The pope greeted Obama outside the Papal Library with a friendly handshake. Obama “nodded his head slightly,” according to the White House pool report. “Wonderful meeting you,” the president said. “Thank you sir, thank you.”
“It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer. Thank you so much for receiving me,” Obama continued. “I bring greetings from my family. The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children.”
Michelle Obama departed China yesterday after a weeklong trip with her daughters and mother.
The pool reporters could not hear the pope’s responses to Obama as they sat across a desk from each other, each with an interpreter. Pope Francis’s native language is Spanish but he also speaks Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Ukrainian, Piedmontese and Latin, according to the Vatican.
In the exchange of gifts following the meeting, Obama presented the pope with the seeds. According to a White House official, it was “a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden” using “reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The official noted the pope’s earlier announcement that he would open the gardens at Castel Gandolfo, the historic papal summer residence, to the public as a reason for the gift.
“These, I think, are carrots,” Obama said, holding up a pouch from the box. “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.”
“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” he added. The pope quipped, “Why not?” Congressional leaders recently extended a formal invitation for the pope to address a joint session on the Hill.
The pope gave Obama a copy of his apostolic exhortation “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.” Pope Francis chuckled and said, “I hope.”
“My family has to be with me on this journey. They’ve been very strong. Pray for them. I would appreciate it,” the president requested of the pope as they said goodbye.
A reporter in the White House pool later was able to ask Rice how the papal visit went. “Great, really cool,” the ambassador said.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 27, 2014
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) March 27, 2014
If pics are worth 1000 words, what’s this one from this morning’s Obama/Pope Francis meeting saying? pic.twitter.com/nKBBsI0WWz
— John L. Allen, Jr. (@JohnLAllenJr) March 27, 2014
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) March 27, 2014