VATICAN CITY - President Barack Obama said Thursday he was "extremely moved" by his first meeting with Pope Francis. The president and Francis met at the Vatican.
Obama acknowledged that he differs with the pope on some things, but by in large heartily agrees with Francis' message of uplifting the poor and disadvantaged. The president and the pontiff met privately after a ceremonial start to the morning.
Pope Francis welcomed the president to the apostolic palace, then escorted him to the papal library for a private meeting that lasted 52 minutes. Obama described the meeting later in a news conference with Italy's prime minister.
"I was able to speak to him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded," Obama said.
The president told the pope he hoped to help the disadvantaged in America by passing immigration reform this year.
But one contentious subject was left for a later meeting between Obama and the Vatican secretary of state. The Obama administration is battling with the U.S. Conference of Bishops over the requirement, under the health care law, that most employer-sponsored plans cover contraceptives. There was no meeting of the minds on that Thursday.
The audience with the pope apparently steered clear of the profane issues of politics.
"The theme that stitched our conversation together was a belief that in politics and in life the quality of empathy, the ability to stand in somebody's else shoes and to care for someone even if they don't look like you or talk like you or share your philosophy, that's critical," Obama said.
The president's positive feelings about Francis are shared by many Americans.
In a CBS News poll out Thursday, 46 percent said they have a favorable view of this pope.
Among American Catholics, the number was considerably higher - 68 percent.
And, for the first time, more American Catholics say the church is in touch with their needs than say it is not.