President Obama meets Pope Benedict

President Barack Obama met Pope Benedict for the first time on Friday, hours after the conclusion of the G8 summit. The two spoke for about 40 minutes in the pontiff's study at the Vatican. As he shook hands with the pontiff, Mr Obama said it was a "great honour" to meet him.

The meeting was described by both sides as positive. A Vatican spokesman said the leaders discussed immigration, the Middle East peace process and aid to developing nations.

"In the course of their cordial exchanges, the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interest of all and which constitute a great challenge... such as the defence and promotion of life and the right to abide by one's conscience," the Vatican said.

The Vatican stressed the pair’s disagreement on certain ethical issues. Pope Benedict gave President Obama a booklet outlining the Vatican's position on abortion and embyronic stem-cell research.

Denis McDonough, an aide to Mr Obama, described the discussions as “respectful”. He said: "They discussed a range of those issues and I think the president was eager to listen to the Holy Father. He is eager to find common ground on these issues and to work aggressively to do that."

There was more agreement on the issue of the Middle East, although Mr Obama reportedly emphasised that the Pope himself had an important role to play in fostering peace in the region.

During the meeting Obama gave Pope Benedict a personal letter from Senator Edward Kennedy, who is suffering from a brain tumour. The senior member of America’s leading Catholic family, Kennedy has always been a strong Obama supporter.
President Obama asked the Pope to pray for Mr Kennedy.

In an exchange of gifts at the end of their meeting, Pope Benedict gave Mr Obama a leather-bound copy of his new encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

Mr Obama gave the Pope a stole that once covered the body of John Neumann, America's first Catholic bishop to be made a saint.

Before the meeting with the Pope, Mr Obama also held talks with the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarciso Bertone.

Tags: Denis McDonough, Pope Benedict, President Barack Obama, Senator Edward Kennedy

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