Obama Gives Pope Vegetable Seeds, Francis Gives Obama Writings on Morality

March 27, 2014 - 10:45 AM

President Obama met with Pope Francis for the first time this morning, and the two leaders exchanged gifts - Obama gave Francis fruit and vegetable seeds, and the Pope gave Obama a copy of Evangelii Gaudium.

At the beginning of their meeting, before the gift exchange, President Obama sat down at Francis' desk and said, "It is a great honor. I'm a great admirer. Thank you so much for receiving me."

Obama gave Francis a symbolic gift of seeds from the White House fruit and vegetable garden.

"These I think are carrots," Obama said as held a seed pouch. "Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States in Baltimore."

The seeds came in a custom engraved chest, made with wood from the United States' first cathedral, Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption. That basilica was designed as a tribute to religious freedom and was built by Bishop John Carroll and Benjamin Latrobe, the architect of the U.S. Capitol.

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

"The Pope, responding in Spanish, said "Como no?" (For Sure!)" AP reported.

The Pope's gift to Obama were two commemorative medals and a red leather-bound copy of Evaneglii Gaudium, which Pope Francis frequently gifts to heads of state. Francis wrote the exhortation last year, and it contains strong condemnations of abortion as well as asking the faithful to care for the poor.

From the AP:

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

The pope responded in English, "I hope."

According to the Vatican Information Service, Obama and Pope Francis discussed issues as "religious freedom, life and conscientious objection" - hot topics in light of the current Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius Supreme Court case deciding whether government can compel business owners to act in violation of their religious beliefs:

In the context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, the Parties discussed questions of particular relevance for the Church, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform. Finally, the Parties stated their common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking throughout the world.