ROME - Meeting for the first time today, President Obama personally "invited and urged" Pope Francis to visit the United States, telling him "people would be overjoyed to see him."
If the pope were to accept the president's invitation, it would be his first visit to the United States as pope.
Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner also invited the pope to address a joint meeting of Congress - something no pope has ever done.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Renzi today, Obama said it was a "great honor" to meet the pope and that they had a wide-ranging discussion that centered on two themes - the poor and "challenges of conflict" around the world, specifically in the Middle East.
As a politician, Obama said, he has the task of coming up with policies to address issues of growing inequality while "his Holiness has the capacity to open people's eyes and make sure they are seeing that this is an issue."
"The theme that stitched our conversation together was a belief that in politics and in life the quality of empathy, the ability to stand in someone else's shoes and to care for someone even if they don't look like you or talk like you or share your philosophy, that that's critical," he said. "It's the lack of empathy that makes it very easy for us to plunge into wars. It's the lack of empathy that allows us to ignore the homeless on the streets."
"Obviously, central to my Christian faith is a belief in treating others as I would have them treat me. What I think has created so much love and excitement for his Holiness has been that he seems to live this and shows that joy continuously," added Obama.
The president said they did not discuss "social schisms," explaining, "I think his Holiness and the Vatican have been clear about their position on a range of issues. Some of them I differ with. Most I hardly agree with."
Asked about their relationship going forward, the president said: "I don't think that his Holiness envisions entering into a partnership of coalition with any political figure on any issue. His job is a little more elevated. We're down in the ground, dealing with the often profane and he's dealing with higher powers."