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Obama to visit Pope Francis in March

By Jason Hanna and Kevin Liptak, CNN
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Pope Francis in the Rome parish of the Sacro Cuore di Gesu for a pastoral visit on January 19, 2014.
Pope Francis in the Rome parish of the Sacro Cuore di Gesu for a pastoral visit on January 19, 2014.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama and the Pope will discuss poverty and inequality, the White House says
  • The visit will be the first between the two
  • Obama met with Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2009
  • The President will also to visit the Netherlands and Belgium

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama will meet with Pope Francis for the first time on March 27 at the Vatican, the White House announced Tuesday.

Obama's visit with the leader of the Roman Catholic Church will be part of a larger European trip that the President will take that month.

"The President looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality," a White House news release said.

Obama raised the Pope's stance on inequality in an economic address in December.

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"Across the developed world, inequality has increased," Obama said. "Some of you may have seen just last week, the Pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. 'How can it be,' he wrote, 'that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?' "

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters last week -- after his own visit with the Vatican's secretary of state -- that Obama would soon meet with Francis. But Kerry did not specify when.

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Obama met Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2009. That meeting, which took place at the Vatican, was Obama's only meeting with a Pope.

Obama will start his trip on March 24 in the Netherlands, where he will attend the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague and meet with Dutch officials.

He then will go to Brussels, Belgium, for a March 26 summit with the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, and also will visit with the NATO secretary general and Belgian officials, the White House said.

Additionally, Obama will meet with Italy's Prime Minister and President in Rome.

Obama's presidency has been marked by some high-profile clashes with the Catholic Church, including over abortion and contraception. But Francis' approach to world economic issues is widely seen as more in line with Obama's own approach than that of Benedict, who stepped down last year.

In an MSNBC interview last year, Obama called Francis an "extraordinarily thoughtful and soulful messenger of peace and justice."

"I haven't had a chance to meet him yet," Obama said. "But everything that I've read, everything that I've seen from him, indicates the degree to, to which he is trying to remind us of those core obligations."

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CNN's Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

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