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President Obama meets with Pope Francis to talk about poverty, immigration

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The conference President Barack Obama has been anticipating for months with Pope Francis took place Thursday morning at the San Damaso Courtyard papal residence in Vatican City.

The meeting has been talked about with great enthusiasm by the president for months, according to White House correspondent Chuck Todd, who is traveling with the presidential brigade, which also includes Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

The president and the pope met with a handshake outside the Papal Library, where they soon retired for a meeting with translators that lasted almost an hour, before joining other dignitaries, including Kerry and Rice for a more expanded conversation.

Obama and Francis sat on opposite sides of the table in the first meeting, where they exchanged greetings and pleasantries through translation.

"It is a great honor. I'm a great admirer," said Obama, then he extended well-wishes from his wife and family.

Honing in on similar interests of poverty, income inequality and immigration, the White House has been hoping for a better papal relationship with Frances than the chilly one that existed with his predecessor, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Pope Francis, known as “the people’s pope” for his actions against poverty and his willingness to get out among the people, has recently announced the gardens of a papal cottage will be opened up to the public.

Obama, who considers poverty a moral issue, has struggled getting action from the US Congress and he recognizes the power of the Catholic Church and Pope Frances.

"And as we've seen repeatedly, his words matter," Mr. Obama said an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. "With a single sentence, he can focus global attention on an urgent issue."

He added: "It doesn't mean we agree on every issue, but his voice is one that I think the world needs to hear."

Obama presented Francis with a gift of fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House garden, which were contained in a beautiful hand-crated leather chest and invited the pope to visit the garden in person.

"If you have a chance, you can come to the White House and you can see the garden," Obama said as he was explaining the gift in the presence of reporters.

In response to the invitation, Francis said in Spanish, "Como no?" (For sure).

No time frame was mentioned but it could possibly happen in 2015 when the Catholic Church expects Frances to be in the US for an “international gathering of families.”

Obama’s Italy tour will be monitored by world leaders for any mention of recent events in Ukraine, which has dominated news outlets in Europe for weeks.

The White House intends to put the squeeze on Russia in the form of various sanctions, while promoting aid to Ukraine and welcomed a Thursday statement from the International Monetary Fund that committed to fund $14 to $18 billion in aid to Ukraine.

The Obama administration and the Vatican have common ground on certain policies, but there are a number of disagreements on issues of religious freedom surrounding contraceptives under Obamacare, which is currently being consideration by the Supreme Court, and the increasing number of states legalizing gay marriage.

Politically, according to Todd, the meeting between the president and the pope will only help to bolster Obama’s slowly recovering popularity, since 80 percent of Catholics approve of Frances, with 60 percent saying he has renewed their faith in the church.

Obama and his family were guests of Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2009.

From Rome, Obama will depart for a meeting with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia on Friday then he heads back to DC on Saturday.

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