Obama tells Pope Francis he is a ‘great admirer’ in hourlong first meeting

Pope Francis and President Barack Obama smile as they meet at the Vatican Thursday, March 27, 2014. A visibly energized President Obama held a nearly hourlong audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, expressing his great admiration for the pontiff and inviting him to visit the White House. (AP Photo/Gabriel Bouys)
Pope Francis and President Barack Obama smile as they meet at the Vatican Thursday, March 27, 2014. A visibly energized President Obama held a nearly hourlong audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, expressing his great admiration for the pontiff and inviting him to visit the White House. (AP Photo/Gabriel Bouys)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — President Barack Obama calls himself a “great admirer” of Pope Francis.

The two met for the first time today. They were scheduled to meet for half an hour, but their private discussion lasted 52 minutes.

Obama considers Francis a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality, though his administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception.

Obama arrived at the Vatican amid with the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church. After a slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards, the president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff. The two then sat down with translators at a wooden table in the Papal Library to talk.

They also exchanged gifts. The pope handed the president a plaque and an encyclical, or papal letter.

Obama presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden, in honor of the pope’s announcement earlier this year that he’s opening the gardens of the papal summer residence to the public.

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