News reports and officials statements Thursday gave varying accounts of what President Barack Obama and Pope Francis discussed in their 52-minute meeting, but a common thread was that their first meeting was cordial and covered a wide variety of topics.
The Huffington Post posted a video and photos of the meeting between Obama and the pope. Most of the photos show the two engaging with smiles and pleasantries, offering the image that the two got along in their first meeting.
"Thank you for receiving me, I'm a great admirer," Obama said to the pope, according to HuffPost.
Beyond the pleasantries was a discussion on a variety of topics, Religion News Service reported.
“During the cordial meetings, views were exchanged on some current international themes and it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” according to an official statement from the Vatican.
Some topics included immigration, poverty and international law, RNS reported. Obama praised the pope continuously during the meeting, saying he appreciates the empathy that Pope Francis he brings to the papacy.
“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,” Obama said in a statement about the meetings. “And obviously central to my Christian faith is a belief in treating others as I’d have them treat me. And what I think created so much love and excitement for his holiness has been that he seems to live this, and shows that joy continuously.”
The two also discussed religious freedom, a hot political issue in the United States, according to Reuters. Pope Francis said he was concerned about the state of religious liberty in the country, with the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate debated in the news in the last few weeks and Hobby Lobby's lawsuit over the mandate being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
The state of young people was also discussed in their meeting. Obama said in a statement that Pope Francis calling attention to the future of young people shows there’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
“And so, for him to say that we need to think about this, we need to focus on this, we need to come up with policies that provide a good education for every child and good nutrition for every child, and decent shelter and opportunity and jobs — he is not going to get into details of it, but he reminds us of what our moral and ethical obligations are,” Obama said.
Both the White House and the Vatican have differed a bit in their accounts of the discussion. While the Vatican said the pair discussed U.S. social issues, Obama said not many “social schisms” were discussed with Pope Francis specifically, but the president talked about these topics with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, according to The Associated Press.
Before the meeting, advocates fed information to both sides. Activist Judie Brown sent the pope a 12-page memo that highlighted Obama's "hostility toward the church on issues such as abortion and contraception." Obama also received information from a group looking to get Obama to "push Pope Francis" on sex-abuse cases, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"As this president and this pope meet for the first time, in Vatican City, America's Roman Catholics are clamoring to influence the agenda, lobbying both men on issues from immigration to health care," the WSJ reported. "While meetings between popes and presidents are largely symbolic, some activists see this one as a chance to gain traction on several issues that are coming to the fore, at a time when the American church grapples with demographic and social changes."
The Atlantic published a piece ahead of their meeting, too, looking into how the two world leaders relate and how they have helped each other in subtle ways.
“The symbolic ties between them run deep too. Obama shares with Pope Francis a capacity to use words and symbols to spur movements and capture the public’s imagination,” wrote Michael Wear for The Atlantic. “Both men understand that a leader’s significance can come not only from what he does, but from what he represents.”
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