President Obama will travel to the Vatican on March 27 to meet with Pope Francis, a religious leader he has praised for his message about poverty and inequality.
“The President looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement today.
The president has said he was “hugely impressed” with Pope Francis, who was chosen to lead the Roman Catholic Church last March.
“He seems like somebody who lives out the teachings of Christ. Incredible humility, incredible sense of empathy to the least of these, to the poor,” the president said in a CNBC interview in October. “He’s also somebody who’s, I think, first and foremost, thinking about how to embrace people as opposed to push them away. How to find what’s good in them as opposed to condemn them.”
“That spirit, that sense of love and unity seems to manifest itself in not just what he says, but also what he does,” the president said. “That’s a quality I admire.”
Pope Francis, who was selected as Time magazines’ Person of the Year in 2013, has become an often cited figure in Washington, D.C., as elected officials, including President Obama, point to his message regarding poverty and the need to halt inequality.
“Across the developed world, inequality has increased,” the president said in a speech last month. “Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length.”
“‘How could it be,’ he wrote, ‘that it’s not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?’” the president said, quoting the pontiff.
Vice President Joe Biden, the country’s first Catholic vice president, briefly met the Holy Father when he attended his Inauguration Mass at the Vatican in March.
“When I was in Rome a few weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke movingly … in his homily about our commitments to each other, not just as people of faith but, he went on to say, as human beings,” Biden said last April. “I was incredibly impressed by His Holiness’s homily, his sense of social justice. What I believe his message reads something essential about all faiths and that is ultimately we all believe that we have a responsibility to one another, and we all are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, also a Roman Catholic, dropped a hint about the president’s upcoming trip during a meeting with his counterpart in the Vatican, Archbishop Pietro Parolin.
“I know that the Holy Father is anticipating the visit of President Obama here, and the president is looking forward to coming here to meet him,” Kerry said last week.
This will be President Obama’s second visit to Vatican City since taking office. In 2009, the president and First Lady Michelle Obama met Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, in the Vatican.
While in Europe in March, President Obama will also travel to the Netherlands for the Nuclear Security Summit and to Belgium for a U.S.-E.U. summit.