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Obama, Pope Francis find common ground, sharp divisions Post Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2014 12:49 pm 

President Barack Obama held his first meeting on Thursday with Pope Francis in which Sharp differences over abortion and birth control surfaced, as the president sought to emphasize common ground issues like economic inequality during a much-anticipated Vatican visit.

After the hour-long meeting the Vatican said that the discussions centered on questions of "particular relevance for the church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection" - issues that have fueled divisions between Obama and Catholics in the US. The Vatican also added the statement that the leaders discussed immigration reform, touching on an issue where Obama has largely enjoyed the support of America's many Hispanic Catholics.

Obama expressed his great admiration and invited Pope to visit the White House.

Obama said after greeting the Pope with a slight bow as they shook hands "It is a great honor. I'm a great admirer, "Thank you so much for receiving me."

The private meeting in the Papal Library ran longer than scheduled. Barack Obama and the church remain deeply split over social issues, Obama considers the pontiff a kindred spirit on issues of inequality.

After the long meeting they emerged to camera, Pope Francis presented Obama a copy of his papal mission statement decrying a global economic system that excludes the poor. Obama assured that he will keep it in the Oval Office.

Obama said "You know, I actually will probably read this when I'm in the Oval Office, when I am deeply frustrated and I am sure it will give me strength and will calm me down."

"I hope," responded the Pope.

The Church invited Obama with all the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church and Obama presented the Pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House garden.The chest was reminds with the date of their meeting and custom-made of leather and reclaimed wood from the Baltimore Basilica, one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the US. As the custom for a papal audience, the two greeted one another in the Small Throne Room, before sitting across from one another at the Pope's desk.

Obama said "If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well."

"Why not?" the pope responded

Hopefully, by September 2015, Pope Francis will visit US for the church's World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

As Obama departed, he asked the pope, "Please pray for me and my family," which was an echo of how Pope usually ends his meetings.

Obama made his way to Rome's Quirinal Palace for a series of meetings with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi after leaving the Vatican midday.

Obama is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican.

Pope Francis and the president share the same view on fixing immigration laws in the United States, the church has given special attention to reuniting families and also Pope faithfully backs church teaching on abortion. He has said he's a "son of the church" and he wants his church to be more of a welcoming place for wounded souls rather than a moralizing church.

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