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Obama holds 1st meet with Pope Francis to talk global inequality

VATICAN CITY--U.S. President Barack Obama held a historic first meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday to discuss a shared agenda of fighting global inequality despite wide differences over issues like gay rights and contraception.

Obama told Francis he was a “great admirer” at the start of their talks at the Vatican, which political observers said could be a bid to boost the U.S. president's support at home among Catholic voters.

The closed-door talks between the first African-American U.S. president and the first pope from Latin America lasted around 50 minutes — slightly longer than papal meetings with other world leaders.

The White House said Obama had been hoping to speak to Francis about their “shared commitment to fighting growing inequality” as well as the Middle East peace process, the environment and immigration reform.

The two exchanged gifts afterwards, with the pope offering Obama a copy of his “apostolic exhortation” from last year in which he excoriated global capitalism and also reiterated his firm opposition to abortion.

“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,” a smiling Obama said.

The U.S. leader gave the pope a chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden.

“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” the president said — to which the pope replied: “Absolutely!”

The meeting comes as a welcome rest-stop for Obama during a six-day European tour dominated by the crisis over Crimea, and the U.S. leader will doubtless be hoping some of the pope's stardom will rub off on him.

During his visit to the Eternal City, Obama also met Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi — the European Union's youngest government leader, as well as going on a private guided tour of the Colosseum.

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Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama smile as they exchange gifts at the Vatican on Thursday, March 27. President Obama called himself a “great admirer” of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality.

(AP)

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