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Obama tells Pope Francis he is a 'great admirer' as they hold historic, hourlong first meeting

Thursday - 3/27/2014, 9:20am  ET

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- President Barack Obama calls himself a "great admirer" of Pope Francis.

The two met for the first time today. They were scheduled to meet for half an hour, but their private discussion lasted 52 minutes.

Obama considers Francis a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality, though his administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception.

Obama arrived at the Vatican amid with the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church. After a slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards, the president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff. The two then sat down with translators at a wooden table in the Papal Library to talk.

They also exchanged gifts. The pope handed the president a plaque and an encyclical, or papal letter.

Obama presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden, in honor of the pope's announcement earlier this year that he's opening the gardens of the papal summer residence to the public.

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153-c-19-(Mark Smith, AP White House correspondent)-"a great admirer"-AP White House Correspondent Mark Smith reports President Barack Obama has wrapped up his first meeting with Pope Francis. (27 Mar 2014)

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154-c-23-(Mark Smith, AP White House correspondent)-"he lives it"-AP White House Correspondent Mark Smith reports the meeting lasted nearly an hour in the ornate Vatican Library. (27 Mar 2014)

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152-v-35-(Mark Smith, AP White House correspondent)--President Obama has held his first meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. AP White House Correspondent Mark Smith reports. ((opens with sound)) (27 Mar 2014)

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APPHOTO VATM115: US President Barack Obama smiles during his meeting with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Vatican. Obama called himself a "great admirer" of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception. On the right is Msgr. Mark Miles, who was the english translator for the Pontiff. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (27 Mar 2014)

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APPHOTO VAT130: Pope Francis listens to President Barack Obama as they meet at the Vatican Thursday, March 27, 2014. President Barack Obama called himself a "great admirer" of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception. (AP Photo/Gabriel Bouys, Pool) (27 Mar 2014)

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APPHOTO VATM214: US President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Vatican. Obama called himself a "great admirer" of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception. On the right is Msgr. Mark Miles, who was the english translator for the Pontiff. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (27 Mar 2014)

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