On the morning of March 27, President Barack Obama met Pope Francis in Rome. That afternoon, on the other side of the Tiber River he paid another visit, to Italy’s newly elected prime minister, Matteo Renzi.
“I met Obama the same day that he had met the Pope, and at the end of our meeting we were alone for about 10 minutes while they were organizing the cars,” Renzi, 39, recalls in an interview with TIME. “He had told me that he had been really impressed by the meeting they had had.”
Both Obama and the Pope feature in TIME’s list of the one hundred most influential people in the world. And the President’s admiration for Francis shines through in his piece for the special TIME 100 issue of the magazine published today. Describing the Pontiff as a “leader who makes us want to be better people,” Obama said he reminds us that “we are bound by moral obligations to one another.”
“If you ask my opinion of [the] Pope, as a Catholic, I say that I’m deeply struck by the capacity that the church had of understanding and changing. Not only the resignation of Ratzinger, but also that Ratzinger was succeeded by Bergoglio—two very different models,” says Renzi. “From a political point of view, Pope Francis is a reference point that, in my opinion, is very sensitive to a several themes: social justice, fairness, a focus on the least fortunate, much more than other popes in the past. And from this point of view I share Obama’s judgment.”
Renzi’s remarks come as he attempts to revive the Italian economy. Weighed down by record levels of public debt, the country has struggled as growth across the region hit the buffers, exposing deep structural flaws in what is the eurozone’s third largest economy. Since taking over earlier this year, the telegenic former Mayor of Florence has adopted an ambitious reform agenda in a bid to pull the country out of the doldrums.