Obama to visit Pope Francis, Kerry says

 

The White House on Tuesday said President Obama will visit Pope Francis, though it did not say when the meeting would happen.

"I do not have any more details for you on that, timing or location, other than to say that the president looks forward to the visit," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday during his press briefing.

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Carney made the comments after Secretary of State John Kerry, during a visit to Vatican City, said Obama was looking forward to meeting Pope Francis.

“I know that the Holy Father is anticipating the visit of President Obama here, and the president is looking forward to coming here to meet with him,” Kerry said after his own meeting with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state.

Obama has made clear his admiration for Francis, who has soared to popularity since becoming pope last year.

"I think Pope Francis is showing himself to be just an extraordinarily thoughtful and soulful messenger of peace and justice," Obama said in December, noting he hadn’t had a chance to meet the pope yet.

Obama also cited the pope’s call for concern for the homeless in a major inequality speech last month.

During his visit to the Vatican, Kerry said he asked Parolin for help in dealing with Cuba over American citizen Alan Gross’s imprisonment. Gross was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years in prison for helping to install Internet networks for Cuban Jews. The Vatican is seen as having better relations with Cuba.

“We talked also about Cuba and the need for respect for freedom of religion and respect for human rights,” Kerry said. “I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that they might be able to be of assistance with respect to that issue.”

They also discussed the civil war in Syria, and Kerry expressed his appreciation for the pope’s support of the Geneva II peace talks, set to begin on Jan. 22.

“I was particularly appreciative for the archbishop’s raising this issue and equally grateful for the Holy Father’s comments, the Pope’s comments, yesterday regarding his support for the Geneva II process,” Kerry said. 

Kerry said he gave the archbishop a briefing on the Middle East peace process and would keep him updated ahead of the pope’s visit to the region in May.