US President Barack Obama has been scheduled for a trip to Rome today to meet with pope Francis for the first time.
It will be the second time that President Barack Obama has been received at the Vatican, after an audience with Pope Benedict XVI on July 10, 2009.
Barack Obama is the ninth US President to make an official visit to the Vatican. The first, Woodrow Wilson, received by Pope Benedict XV after the end of the First World War.
The next audience for a sitting president came thirty years later, when Blessed Pope John XXIII, received President Dwight Eisenhower 1959. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the first (and so far only) Catholic president met with Pope Paul VI in 1963. Paul VI later received three other Presidents, meeting twice each with both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and once with Gerald Ford.
The visit of Blessed John Paul II to Washington in 1979, when he met Jimmy Carter, was the first visit of a Pope to the White House. It was also the first of many meetings with American Presidents during his long pontificate. During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States were established at the highest level. George Bush, Sr, met twice times with Pope John Paul, both times at the Vatican. President Bill Clinton welcomed Pope John Paul to the United States three times, and travelled once to the Vatican.
George W. Bush became the first President to meet two different Popes while in office, meeting three times each with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He is thus far the only President to be received by a Pope at the summer papal residence of Castel Gandalfo (in 2001).
As President, George W. Bush attended the funeral of Blessed John Paul II, along with former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton; both Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (later Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis), were, of course, also present.
President Obama’s first meeting with a Pope occurred in he visited Rome in 2009. His upcoming audience with Pope Francis will take place in the context of a complex phase of the administration’s relations with the Church of the United States, marked, in particular, by controversy on the implementation of health care reform (the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” commonly known as “Obamacare”) having to do with rules on mandatory health care coverage of sterilization, contraception, and abortion; and on other issues at the centre of public debate in the United States, such as the legalization of homosexual marriages.