'I'm a great admirer,' Obama tells Pope
President Barack Obama declared himself "a great admirer" of Pope Francis yesterday as he used his first meeting with the Pontiff to draw attention to his battle to reduce economic inequality at home.
Giving a slight bow, Mr Obama seemed almost star-struck, telling the Pope: "It is a great honour, I am a great admirer. Thank you so much for receiving me. Thank you sir, thank you."
The two men found evident common ground on the issue of poverty and social inequality. In an exchange of gifts, the 76-year-old Pontiff gave Mr Obama a copy of a lengthy critique of global capitalism that he wrote last year, in which he condemned the "tyranny" of the markets.
The bound, 84-page manifesto, officially known as an "apostolic exhortation", was released in November and attacked the "idolatry of money".
Accepting the 'Evangelii Gaudium' (The Joy of the Gospel) document, Mr Obama said: "You know, I actually probably will read this in the Oval Office when I am deeply frustrated and I'm sure it will give me strength and calm me down."
The Pope responded in English: "I hope."
Earlier, Mr Obama said in an interview with the 'Corriere della Sera' newspaper that his attempts to narrow the gap between America's super-rich and the rest of the country were in keeping with the Pontiff's crusade against poverty and inequality.
The Pope had repeatedly warned that the world was becoming so used to "extreme inequality" that there was a danger that it would be "accepted as normal", the president said.
But he admitted that while he admired the Pope's courage in not mincing his words on social and economic problems, "this does not mean that we agree on every issue". The truth of that statement was confirmed later when it emerged that the Pope took Mr Obama to task on social issues including contraception and abortion.
In an official statement after the meeting, the Vatican said he had raised "the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection" – a reference to the Roman Catholic Church's trenchant opposition to Mr Obama's health care reform that requires companies to provide their employees with health insurance, including for contraception.
The president's gift to the Pope was rather less ideological – a wooden and leather case full of fruit and vegetable seeds gathered from the White House garden. "These, I think, are carrots," he said to the Pope, picking up one of the capsules in the box. "Each one has a different seed inside it. If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well," he added.
"Why not?" the Pope responded in his native Spanish. (© Daily Telegraph, London)