President Obama met Pope Francis today at the Vatican.
In his first official visit, which began at 10:27 a.m. in Rome, the president and the pope met for about 50 minutes -- longer than many had expected -- before bringing in the rest of the U.S. delegation, including Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and press secretary Jay Carney.
One by one, the 10 members of the delegation were introduced to the pope.
President Obama made the slow, formal procession to greet the pope in the ornate Small Throne Room outside the Papal Library."Wonderful meeting you. I'm a great admirer," the president said.
The two walked into the library and took seats at opposite sides of the pope's desk.
"I bring greetings from my family," Obama added. "The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children."
The president also presented the pope with a custom-made chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden. The chest was made from American leather and wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary."These, I think, are carrots," Obama said, holding a pouch. "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," the president said.
The inscription on the chest read: "Presented to His Holiness Pope Francis by Barack Obama President of the United States of America, March 27, 2014."
The pope gave the president a plaque, which Obama said he would "treasure."It was Obama's second visit to the Vatican as president but his first visit with this pope. In 2009, he and first lady Michelle Obama met Pope Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus. For that trip, Obama came bearing a special gift: a stole that covered the remains of St. John Neuman, the first American bishop to be canonized.
After today's visit, will this pope return the favor?
Earlier this month, Pope Francis was invited by House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress. Boehner extended the formal invitation on Mar. 13 in a letter to the Vatican on the one-year anniversary of Francis' papacy saying the Holy Father has "awakened hearts on every continent."Since Paul VI made his first papal visit to the United States in 1965, three popes have come to America. John Paul II came to the United States seven times, visiting with every president from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton.
On Thursday, under an overcast sky, the president's motorcade weaved through Rome to be welcomed at the Vatican with great ceremony.
It may not seem that the president and the pope have much in common, but they share similarities. The United States' first African American president and the first Latin American pope both exploded onto the global stage sharing messages of hope and change.
President Obama's stop in Rome came amid a week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East during which the issue of Russia's incursions into Ukraine have been the key topic of discussion among world leaders.
Before Obama left the Vatican, he and the Pope shook hands and embraced.
"My family has to be with me on this journey. They've been very strong," Obama said. "Pray for them. I would appreciate it."