President Obama has just concluded his meeting with the pope today in the Vatican. The White House sent details of the gift President Obama delivered to the pope.
"President Barack Obama presented His Holiness Pope Francis with a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden. Earlier this month, Pope Francis made the historic announcement that he would open to the public the gardens of the papal summer residence, the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo," writes the White House in an email to reporters.
"The chest is made from American leather, and features reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals built in the United States.
The Basilica’s cornerstone was laid by John Carroll, a Jesuit and the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States. The Cathedral was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, who was selected by President Thomas Jefferson to serve as an Architect of the Capitol, and played a pivotal role in its design and construction.
The inscription on the chest reads:
Presented to His Holiness Pope Francis by Barack Obama President of the United States of America March 27, 2014
In keeping with the spirit of the gift, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello will donate seeds that will yield several tons of produce to a charity of Pope Francis’ choosing.
UPDATE: Here are details of the gift exchange, via the pool report:
Following the meeting, the press was ushered into the Papal Library for the gift exchange and the greeting of the US delegation.
The mood overall during the gift exchange was light. The president smiled quite a bit, saying things to the pope that could not always be heard by the pool but often made Francis smile or laugh.
The pope and the president stood at the far end of the room from the desk, which was where they sat for their meeting. The two talked softly while the delegation filed in the room. One by one, the delegation - which included Rice, Pfeiffer andRhodes - stepped by one by one to shake hands with the pope. The delegation lined up next to the pope and the president, split up in two rows on either side.
The president and the pope then stepped forward to the gift table. See previous pool report for the details.
The president was up first for the exchange. He gave the Pope a custom-made box of seeds. The president mentioned that he heard the pope has decided to open gardens at the summer residence to the public.
"These I think are carrots," he said, holding a 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."
"If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well," the president said.
Then the pope spoke through an interpreter, showing the gifts to Obama.
The pope gave the president a plaque of some kind.
"I will treasure this," Obama said.
He also received an encyclical (waiting for more detail the pope's gifts).
"I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I'm deeply frustrated. I'm sure it will give me strength and calm me down," the president said smiling.
Once the remark was interpreted for him, the pope smiled as well and chuckled.
The two made their way towards the door.
"His Holiness is probably the only person in the world who has to put up with more protocol," the president joked.
Before they departed, they shook each other's hands in an extended embrace.
"My family has to be with me on this journey. They've been very strong. Pray for them. I would appreciate it," the president said.
The White House has just released details of President Obama's upcoming Europe trip, which includes a visit with the pope in Vatican City on March 27. "The President looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality," says the White House press secretary in a statement.
Here's the full statement:
Statement by the Press Secretary on the President's Travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy in March 2014
A commentator on CNN dubbed Pope Francis "the hope and change pope" earlier today:
"He hasn't actually done much in the way of real policy changes of initiatives, and he certainly is the hope and change pope, but he's at the head of a body, the Vatican, that's very resistant to change," said the CNN commentator. "I've read, for instance, that observers say that you don't change the Vatican, the Vatican changes you."
In an interview that aired this morning, President Obama was asked whether he'd have too much influence over an American pope. He didn't answer the question, but he did say he hopes the next pope carries the "central message of the Gospel":
Cardinals will not allowed to access their Twitter accounts during conclave, according to Catholic News Service. This restriction is applicable to the 9 cardinals who have Twitter accounts. In all, there are "117 red-vested princes of the church who are eligible to vote for a new pope."