Obama heading to Europe, Vatican visit with Pope Francis
BY LYNN SWEET Washington Bureau Chief March 23, 2014 3:31PM
Updated: March 23, 2014 3:40PM
esident Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis on Thursday, departing for an overseas swing on Sunday evening—with an added starter in talks at other stops—figuring out how to punish Russia for invading Ukraine, since economic sanctions haven’t done much so far. The Sunday New York Times featured a front page story on Obama’s work with black Roman Catholic groups in Chicago in the 1980s.
It will be the first time Obama meets with the current pope. In July, 2009, Obama and First Lady Michelle (who wore a mantilla—a black lace head covering) visited with Pope Benedict XVI. (Former Obama advisor David Axelrod, now back in Chicago, was also part of the group.)
Discussing the upcoming audience with the pope at the Vatican, White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes used a phrase during Friday briefing—“income inequality”—that is a term embraced by Obama, the White House and Democrats to pressure Republicans to raise the minimum wage and approve other Obama proposals to help low-and-middle income earners.
Be aware of that when you read Rhodes' comments in the next paragraphs about Obama’s meeting with the pope.
Rhodes said on Friday, Obama “will begin his day with an audience with Pope Francis. He has long looked forward to meeting Pope Francis. He has very much admired the leadership he has provided in his first year as Pope, his commitment to address issues like income inequality, and his leadership of the church more broadly. So that will be an important time for the President to have some personal interaction with the Pope and to hear about the very ambitious agenda that he has launched in his first year.”
Obama in the next week will travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the Vatican and Saudi Arabia.
The New York Times story is headlined, “The Catholic Roots of Obama’s Activism: He Found His Voice in a Chicago Parish. Now He’ll Speak With the Pope,” and reported by Jason Horowitz who quotes, among others, Andrew Lyke, the director of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office for Black Catholics.
Excerpt: “Mr. Obama’s old friends in the priesthood pray that Francis will discover a president freed from concerns about re-election and willing to rededicate himself to the vulnerable.
“…But the Vatican — aware that Mr. Obama has far more to gain from the encounter than the pope does, and wary of being used for American political consumption — warns that this will hardly be like the 1982 meeting at which President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II agreed to fight Communism in Eastern Europe.”