The first meeting between Pope Francis and American President Barack Obama is highly symbolic and even though it’s not likely to change policy, it’s no less important during these turbulent times.
It will be the 28th time a sitting President visits the Holy Father at the Vatican and even though neither can influence the other’s policies the meeting is hugely scrutinized in the media. Francis is the sixth Pope to grant an audience to the US leader.
There is not much in common between the leader of the Catholic Church and the US head of state. The death penalty, abortion, gay marriage, and other social hot topics are usually a contentious issues between both and in the US there is a clear separation of church and state.
However, it is almost a sure bet that Pope Francis and Barack Obama will also discuss the few issues they agree on, mainly poverty and the gap between rich and poor, which both men have discussed publicly and often.
It is also likely, Francis and Obama will talk about our troubled world including the devastating Syrian civil war, the recent developments between Russia and Crimea, and the situation in the Middle East.
Both men share the heavy burden of their positions and Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter says, “The pope is also a world leader, I would call him a leader of the spiritual super power.”
While Pope Francis may be critical of Obama’s policies in several issues, the American President will most likely take the opportunity to inquire after the the Holy Father’s efforts in correcting the wrongs that came following the revelations of priest sexual abuse cases spanning decades.
Pope Francis, it seems, is finally doing something his predecessors refused or did not have the courage to do and more positive things have happened in regards to the disturbing cases than under any other tenure.
The White House said Obama wanted to discuss “pressing global challenges such as lack of economic mobility and opportunity,” and that Pope Francis’ voice was “a crucial one as we look around the world at areas of conflict, religious persecution, and poverty.’
US Catholic Church officials want to issue an invitation for Pope Francis to visit the US for a meeting of Catholic families in Philadelphia in 2015, and Obama will formally invite the Pontiff, according to a US Church official.
In a mostly symbolic visit, Pope Francis and President Obama will seek to find common ground, rather than dwell on their differences. This Holy Father thus far has impressed the world with his openness towards those he doesn’t agree with.