TIME Vatican

Inside Obama’s Meeting With Pope Francis

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican March 27, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican March 27, 2014. Stefano Spaziani

The Obama administration had billed the meeting as an opportunity to share common ground over the gap between the rich and the poor

The private meeting between President Barack Obama and Pope Francis had been scheduled to run for half-an-hour. It lasted 52 minutes. The president had been escorted into the Vatican by a line of Swiss guards, dressed in purple and yellow, wearing helmets and carrying pole arms. The cameras clicked as the president and the Pontiff shook hands, and then they sat at a small wooden table in the Papal Library, exchanging greetings through translators. “It’s wonderful to be here,” Obama said. “I’m a great admirer. Thank you so much for receiving me.” Francis answered: “Thank you.”

The rest of their meeting took place behind closed doors. The Obama administration had billed the meeting, the first between the two leaders, as an opportunity to share common ground over the gap between the rich and the poor. “The Holy Father has inspired people all over the world, including me, with his commitment to social just and his message of love and compassion, especially for poorest and most vulnerable among us,” Obama said the day before in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “When the Pope speaks, his words have an enormous weight.”

But the two men are likely to have touched on subjects on which they disagreed. Vatican officials have said that Francis would bring up the concern of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the requirement that birth control be covered under the new health care reform law. And on Thursday, Francis met briefly with a group of immigration activists, who asked him to raise the issue of deportations in the United States. According to Jersey Vargas, a 10-year-old elementary school student from Los Angeles whose father is facing deportation, the Pope promised he would raise the issue when the two men met. “I told him to pray for my family and to ask the president to stop deportation because it’s separating my family,” Vargas told Fox News Latino. “He blessed me and told me he would bring this up with President Obama.”

At the end of the visit, the two men emerged to pose for pictures and exchange gifts. Obama gave the pope a wooden box made of reclaimed wood from one of the oldest Cathedrals in America, containing fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House Garden. “If you have the chance to come to the White house, you’ll also see our garden,” said Obama. “Of course,” answered the pope. The Pope, in return gave Obama a copy of the encyclical he published in June. “I actually will probably read this at the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated,” Obama said, eliciting a chuckle from the pontiff. “I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.”

Rome was in a state of partial lockdown during Obama’s visit, with traffic diverted in many parts of the city center to make way for Obama’s Chevrolet SUV and his 50-car motorcade. The broad boulevard leading from the edge of the Tiber River to St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican was cleared of cars. On the other side of town, yellow police tape lined the long lane that runs between Rome’s ancient forums to the Coliseum, where Obama was expected to tour in the afternoon.

After his visit with the Pope, Obama was expected to meet with the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, followed by a “working lunch,” with Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, and a meeting and a news conference with the country’s recently elected Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. After his tour of the Coliseum, he was scheduled to meet with embassy staff and their families.

TIME Religion

Obama Meets the Pope

President Obama met with Pope Francis in Vatican City today, an opportunity for both world leaders to discuss their shared commitment to combatting economic inequality. "Welcome, Mr. President," the Pontiff said. "I'm a great admirer," the President told the religious leader

President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican, in his second Papal visit and first with the new Pontiff.

“Wonderful meeting you,” Obama told the Pope upon being greeted outside the Papal Library following a ceremonial procession led by the Vatican’s Swiss Guards.

“It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer,” Obama said. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”

The White House said before the visit that the meeting would be an opportunity for the two world leaders to discuss their shared commitment to combatting economic inequality, an issue Pope Francis has prioritized during his first year in office. Democrats have increasingly used the Pope’s emphasis on inequality as a political cudgel against Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.

But the gathering was also seen as an opportunity for the president to smooth ties with the Vatican and the large Hispanic Catholic population in America whose support for Obama has waned since helping vote him into office. The Vatican has been critical of a measure in Obama’s health care reform law that mandates contraception coverage, and officials said before the meeting that Pope Francis would likely raise those concerns.

In a news conference after the meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama said the Pope “did not touch in detail” on the issue of contraception. Instead, he said he discussed religious freedoms in the context of the healthcare law with Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

The President said his conversation with Pope Francis focused on other issues, including conflict and growing inequality worldwide as well as immigration in the United States. He also said he extended an invitation to the Pope to come to the U.S.

But he played down suggestions from a reporter that he would collaborate with the Pope on inequality.

“You know, I don’t think that His Holiness envisions entering into a partnership or coalition with any political figure on any issue,” he said. “His job is a little more elevated. We’re down on the ground, dealing with the often profane, and he’s dealing with higher powers.”

The Vatican said in its own statement that the meeting focused on social issues. “There was a discussion 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, as well as the issue of immigration reform,” the Vatican said in the statement.

Pope Francis, who was TIME’s Person of the Year in 2013, is widely popular globally and in America, where 8 in 10 Catholics view him favorably, per a recent Pew Research Center poll.

“He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera before the meeting.

The White House said Obama presented Pope Francis with “a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden,” noting that the Pontiff said earlier this month that he would open the gardens of the papal summer residence to the public.

“I bring greetings from my family,” Obama told the Pope upon meeting him. “The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children.”

Obama, on a week-long tour in Europe that has primarily focused on regional security amid recent tension with Russia, is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican.

-with reporting from Zeke J Miller

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis Fires German ‘Bling Bishop’

An inquiry into Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's $43 million residence has ended with the Vatican demanding his resignation

Pope Francis has replaced a German bishop whose $43 million new residence complex sparked outrage among Catholics.

The so-called ‘Bishop of Bling,’ Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg was temporarily expelled during a church inquiry in October, the Associated Press reports. Tebartz-van Elst spent lavishly renovating his residence, including a reported $20,000 on a bathtub and $620,000 on artwork.

That inquiry has now found him incapable of holding his diocese and demanded his resignation, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Tebartz-van Elst will be replaced by Monsignor Manfred Grothe. Tebartz-van Elst will get a new job, said the Vatican, adding that the pope hoped that residents of Limburg would accept the decision with “docility and willingness to rediscover a climate of charity and reconciliation.”

Pope Francis has emphasized charity and addressing social inequality since taking his seat in the Vatican last March. He is due to meet with President Obama Wednesday.

[AP]

TIME movies

Pope Francis and Russell Crowe Won’t Be Meeting After All

The actor has been campaigning the Holy See to screen his new film "Noah" but studio Paramount Pictures says an informal chat was never on the cards

Apparently it takes more than a Twitter campaign to woo Pope Francis.

Variety reports that a tentatively scheduled meet and greet between Pope Francis and the team behind Noah has been canceled, despite star Russell Crowe’s Twitter campaign to draw the Holy See to the project.

Crowe is in Italy to promote the film along with director Darren Aronofsky and Paramount Pictures executives, ahead of its U.S. release on March 28. Variety originally reported that a meeting between the Pope, Crowe and Aronofsky had been scheduled for Wednesday, but the Vatican canceled over fear that the arrangement would cause a “spectacle.”

But Paramount denies that a meeting was ever set in stone, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The studio told THR that they contacted the Vatican about Crowe attending the papal general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, but the Vatican wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Paramount told THR that the Vatican thought Crowe’s appearance could disrupt the weekly prayer event, so the studio abandoned the idea.

However the rejection played out, it looks like Crowe’s Twitter stalking was in vain.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

TIME Religion

Boehner and Pelosi Invite Pope Francis to Congress

Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City.
Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City. Andreas Solara—AFP/Getty Images

Congressional leaders used the occasion of Francis' first anniversary as Pope to invite him to Washington. President Obama is going to the Vatican to meet with His Holiness on March 27

Happy one-year anniversary, Pope Francis: You are invited to come to Congress.

Almost one year to the minute after Pope Francis was named Benedict XVI’s successor, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday afternoon that they were formally inviting the popular Holy Father to address Congress. President Barack Obama is going to the Vatican to meet with His Holiness on March 27, and the Holy See has not announced formal plans to visit the United States. Pope Francis has made it clear that his priorities for international visits are the Holy Land, Asia, and then Africa.

Congress could use some peace-building right about now. Leaders appear divided even on inviting the Pope: Boehner and Pelosi, both Catholics, issued the invitation, but Boehner did not include Pelosi’s name in his announcement of the invitation.

Pelosi’s statement:

“As we approach the first anniversary of the inauguration of Pope Francis, I am pleased to join Speaker Boehner in inviting His Holiness to address a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress.

“I had the privilege of attending His Holiness’ inauguration at the Vatican and was inspired by his message of peace, compassion, and brotherhood.

“Whether inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, who cared for all of God’s creation, or by St. Joseph, protector of the church, Pope Francis has lived his values and upheld his promise to be a moral force, to protect the poor and the needy, to serve as a champion of the less fortunate, and to promote love and understanding among faiths and nations.”

Boehner’s statement:

“It is with reverence and admiration that I have invited Pope Francis, as head of state of the Holy See and the first Pope to hail from the Americas, to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service.

“His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us—the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn—has awakened hearts on every continent.

“His social teachings, rooted in ‘the joy of the gospel,’ have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice.

“These principles are among the fundamentals of the American Idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good. Many in the United States believe these principles are undermined by ‘crony capitalism’ and the ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity. They have embraced Pope Francis’ reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations. We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other.

“The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties. His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions. It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.

“It is with deep gratitude that I have asked Pope Francis to consider this open invitation on behalf of the Congress and the millions of citizens of the United States we serve.”

TIME Vatican

Pope Asks Twitter Flock To Pray For Him

The pontiff

As Pope Francis wraps up his first year as head of the Catholic Church, the social media-savvy pontiff tweeted out to his 3.7 million followers for religious support:

The Pope, named TIME’s Person of the Year, is celebrating his first anniversary on the job by spending the day in a prayer retreat outside Rome to mark Lent.

TIME Pope Franics

Pope Francis Celebrates a Year of Change at the Vatican

Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City.
Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City. Andreas Solara—AFP/Getty Images

A year after becoming the first non-European pope in more than a millennium, the Argentine pontiff continues to challenge the status quo. That's evident again in his choice to celebrate his first year, untraditionally, outside the walls of the Holy See

Pope Francis has spent his first year in office challenging Vatican custom and the he’ll celebrate the anniversary of his papacy in the same fashion, as the first pope in decades to mark the occasion outside the Vatican walls.

The first non-European pope in more than a millennium will spend the week of preaching and prayer at a retreat with the Roman Curia in a small town 15 miles from the Vatican. The decision to break with tradition by leading the Curia—the Vatican bureaucracy—outside the Holy See for his one-year anniversary evokes Francis’ efforts to reform a church he has criticized for being too insular.

The Vatican has also marked Francis’ first year in office with the release of an e-book that compiles quotations from the pope’s first year in office.

In the 12 months since he succeeded the conservative and tradition-bound Pope Benedict, Francis hasn’t shied from challenging Vatican rules and Catholic custom. He travels in a Ford Focus rather than the papal limousine; he lives in the Vatican hotel rather than the Vatican’s papal apartments; he raised traditionalist eyebrows when, on a flight after a visit to Brazil, he was asked his opinion on homosexuality and answered, “Who am I to judge?” The Argentine-born pope—and TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year—has imbued his office with rare rock star status. He has initiated a profound change in style—if not always in underlying substance—at the Vatican that many believe is reinvigorating the world’s largest religion.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis the Popular

Pope Francis greets the faithful as he arrives at Copacabana Beach to celebrate mass on his sixth day in Rio de Janeiro
Pope Francis greets the faithful as he arrives at Copacabana Beach to celebrate mass on his sixth day in Rio de Janeiro, July 27, 2013. Ueslei Marcelino—Reuters

A new poll released Thursday finds that American Catholics aren't just overwhelmingly in favor the Holy Father, but have become 'more excited' about their faith. Four-tenths of them are praying more and one-fifth are reading the Bible more often

Pope Francis has been Pope for almost a year, and now there’s actual data to support a trend everyone has noticed: Pope Francis is one popular dude.

A new Pew Research Center report released Thursday finds that U.S. Catholics overwhelmingly have a favorable view of the Holy Father. More than half view Francis very favorably, and a third view him mostly favorably, giving Francis a net favorability rating of 85%. That’s generally about ten points higher than Pope Benedict XVI’s overall favorability ratings between 2005 and 2013, but a few points shy of Pope John Paul II’s ratings that soared to 93% two decades ago.

What’s most interesting about the report’s findings however is not that Francis is popular—that’s been fairly obvious—but rather that his papacy coincides with the growth of Catholics’ personal expression of their faith. Over the last year, a quarter of Catholics say they have become “more excited” about their faith, four-in-ten Catholics say they are praying more, and one-in-five say they have been reading the Bible more often. The survey questions did not explicitly tie personal religiosity to Francis, but did indicate a more intense religiosity among Catholics since he has been the Holy Father.

More fast facts from the Pew findings:

  • 71% of U.S. Catholics say that Pope Francis represents a major change in the direction of the Catholic Church, and only 2% say that change is for the worse
  • More than half of non-Catholics in the U.S. agree that Francis is a change for the better
  • There has been no measurable rise in the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic since Francis was elected
  • There has been no measurable rise in the percentage of Catholics who attend mass or confession since Francis was elected

You can read the full report here.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis: Don’t Call Me Superman

VATICAN - POPE-ANGELUS
Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of his apartment at the Vatican on Feb. 9, 2014. Tiziana Fabi / AFP / Getty Images

In a new interview with an Italian-language newspaper, Pope Francis said he was a 'normal' man and that he takes offense to the idolization surrounding his leadership of the papacy. He also touched on issues including women's decision-making role in the church, birth control and how globalization affects the poor

Pope Francis has called the overwhelming hype around his papacy “offensive,” describing himself as a “normal person” like everybody else.

In an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera (in Italian), the Holy See expressed his discomfort at the idolization surrounding his leadership of the church, noting that the description of the pope as a kind of superman or star was “offensive.” “The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person,” said Francis.

The pope also addressed a question on institutional child abuse. “No one else has done more” to root out and address pedophilia than the church, said Francis, suggesting the Vatican had been unfairly singled out for criticism. Francis also said the church was perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and accountability on the issue. His strong words follow on from last month’s United Nation’s report condemning the Vatican’s handling of priests who have abused children.

Other issues Francis touched on include suggesting women could have a greater decision-making role in the church, addressing the church’s position on birth control and how globalization affects the poor. He also denied suggestions he shared Marxist views.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis Willing To “Evaluate” Civil Unions, But No Embrace of Gay Marriage

Pope Francis greets the faithful as he arrives at Copacabana Beach to celebrate mass on his sixth day in Rio de Janeiro
Pope Francis greets the faithful as he arrives at Copacabana Beach to celebrate mass on his sixth day in Rio de Janeiro, July 27, 2013. Ueslei Marcelino—Reuters

The deeper symbolic power of Francis’ latest tone-shifting statement lies in the day that his words broke

It’s tough being Pope Francis: one day he’s accidentally using vulgarities, and the next day everyone thinks he’s upending the church’s doctrine of marriage. The latest fuss about the Holy Father’s views of gays came after the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published an interview with him on Wednesday. When asked about civil unions, Pope Francis said that states seek “to regularize different situations of living together” in order to ensure health care and other economic benefits, according to the translation by Vatican Insider. And, he added, “We have to look at the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.”

Predictably, the internet exploded: a Huffington Post headline read, “Pope Francis Suggests Gay Civil Unions May Be Tolerable By Church.” ThinkProgress’s LBGT vertical touted a story, “Pope Francis Suggests Support For Civil Unions.” Catholic News Service was slightly more measured with its tweet: “Pope, in interview, suggests church could tolerate some civil unions.”

First, it is important to be clear about what Pope Francis did and did not just say. He did not affirm gay marriage. He did not announce Holy See support for civil unions. He reiterated, yet again, the traditional and non-changing Catholic teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. Today his words about civil unions actually appeared to be about health care and economic equality, not marriage itself.

He also, once again, reminded the world that his papacy seeks to welcome gays, not to judge. It pointed to his desire to see a church of pastors, not of doctrinaires. It was a loud echo of the five most famous words of his papacy so far: “Who am I to judge?” He uttered them in reply to a reporter’s question on gays in an impromptu press conference last July. Even that brief gesture of increased compassion from the Holy See sent shockwaves through global Catholic communities, and it signified the shift in tone that put Francis on the cover of LGBT magazine The Advocate’s as their 2013 Man of the Year.

Beyond the furor over civil unions, the latest papal interview is important for other insights Francis shared about his first year. He critiqued globalization’s role in systemic poverty. He addressed priest child abuse, credited Pope Benedict XVI for his courage standing up against the crimes, and defended the church for its increased transparency. He denied sneaking out of the Vatican at night to feed the hungry. He shared how he wrote to Chinese president Xi Jinping when he was elected just three days after Francis himself took the papacy, and affirmed that relations exist between China and the Holy See. He opened up about his own awareness of his high calling and the personal sacrifices being the People’s Pope demanded—he would like to visit his sister, his last living sibling, in Argentina, but because he has already visited Latin America for World Youth Day, his next pontifical visits must be to the Holy Land, Asia, and then Africa. In yet another sign that Francis is focusing papal attention on the entire world, he did not mention visiting the United States. And, in an endearing moment, he bristled at his celebrity stardom: “Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there is an aggression,” he said. “To depict the Pope as a kind of superman or a star seems to me offensive.”

The deeper symbolic power of Francis’ latest tone-shifting statement lies in the day that his words broke. Today, March 5, is Ash Wednesday, one of the holiest days in the Catholic calendar, and this evening in Rome, Pope Francis bowed to receive the ashes in the sign of the cross on his forehead.

It is a religious act that symbolizes humility, repentance, and a recognition that ultimately, human beliefs and actions bow to God’s mercy. It is the day that Francis, for the first time, begins to lead the church through Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, when congregants are asked to examine at their own sins and let God deal with the sins of others. Francis is a charismatic leader, and there’s no mistaking his symbolism: his attitude of mercy for all is the new tone for the world’s largest church.

“Lent calls us to ‘give ourselves a “shake-up,”‘ to remember that we are creatures, that we are not God,” he preached in his Ash Wednesday sermon.

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