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Meetings between Popes and U.S. Presidents date back nearly a century

2014-03-24

President Barack Obama will return to the Vatican for the second time on March 27. This time he meets with Pope Francis, a Pope with higher approval ratings in the United States than the President himself.

The history of visits between U.S. Presidents and Popes dates back to 1919, when Woodrow Wilson visited the not-yet-independent Vatican. But, the next meeting between the heads of state would not take place until 1959, when Dwight D. Eisenhower visited John XXIII.

Before establishing formal ties in 1984, most of the visits took place at the Vatican, including the 1963 visit between Paul VI and John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic to reach the highest office in the United States.

Since official ties began, under John Paul II, many of the visits took place across the United States, in cities like Miami or Denver.

Popes have visited the White House on only two occasions. The first was in 1979, when John Paul II met Jimmy Carter. Then, in 2008, when Benedict XVI visited George W. Bush. 

In fact, Bush helped Benedict celebrate his 81st birthday at the White House, to the tune of country music.

The Texan was the U.S. President to meet the most times with a Pope, a total of six times: three with Benedict and three with his predecessor, John Paul II. During his last meeting with the Polish Pope in 2004, Bush presented him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.

"Your Holiness, Thank you so much. It's a great honor for me. Thank you so much.”

The most recent meeting between the two figures took place on July 2009. The 44th U.S. President, Barack Obama, visited Benedict XVI at the Apostolic Palace. 

Over forty minutes, the two leaders addressed several topics, including the defense of life, freedom of conscience, immigration and international politics. 


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Up: AFP