This morning at the Vatican President Obama enjoyed his first-ever meeting with Pope Francis. As the New York Times reports, the pope and the president sat across a table in the papal library and spoke for 52 minutes. No details have been disclosed about the content of their discussion.
Aleteia expert and syndicated columnist Russel Shaw had this to say about the meeting:
Much too much has been made of this meeting. I suppose it has to do with the media's continuing fascination with Pope Francis. But both of these men meet with other world leaders all the time and not much comes of it. Not much will come of this meeting either. The Holy Father and the President will continue to agree on poverty and disagree on abortion, and that's about it. I am glad they got together--it's a healthy thing to do--but little or nothing will change as a result.
Aleteia expert Edward Mulholland, assistant professor of classical languages at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, offered a similar cautionary reflection:
"We tend to forget that Pope Francis' job extends way further than the U.S. If you read the reports of his meetings with world leaders, you will see that they are fairly standard. And yet, they mostly all include a discussion of religious freedom. I expect Obama to speak respectfully and gushingly of the Holy Father. If they had a major disagreement (unlikely in a first meeting,) we will probably not have official knowledge of it."
And Aleteia expert and regular contributor John Zmirak hopes that the meeting inspires President Obama to meditate on the ultimate sources of the failures of his presidency:
"After six years of watching him flail around, bruising his exquisite aspirations against the real world's sharp edges and pointy corners, no one places much "hope" in President Obama anymore, and nobody is afraid he'll effect much "change." Instead we feel by turns exasperation, amusement, even pity. He has a hangdog expression most of the time, like the people I see at the veterinary clinic clutching heavily bandaged pets.
"In other words, Mr. Obama is the perfect incarnation of the failure, the flailing useless catastrophe, of the post-Christian vision of man, the effort to make earth a paradise of accumulated happy moments for a pedicured featherless biped. And Pope Francis is just the man to help him pick up all the tiny, pricey pieces. If there was ever a real religious motive behind Obama's flirtations with Catholic social justice activists, perhaps meeting "the Man" whose spirituality encompasses real hope for everlasting change will fan that tiny spark back to life--and remind the president that justice and equality only matter if man himself matters, if he is more than a higher primate seeking instinctual gratification. The proof that man really is more can be only be found on the Cross."
The Times also reports that President Obama gave Pope Francis a custom-made chest constructed out of reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.