Obama, Pope Francis gift exchange: Details on the presents

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Global leaders routinely exchange gifts and on Thursday, President Barack Obama in the Vatican gave Pope Francis a custom seed chest constructed with reclaimed wood from a historic Baltimore cathedral. If the pope comes to Washington — and he might — Obama wants him to see first lady Michelle’s White House garden. The pope gave Obama a book, Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel.”

“The president was up first for the exchange,” according to the pool report. “He gave the Pope a custom-made box of seeds. The president mentioned that he heard the pope has decided to open gardens at the summer residence to the public.

“These I think are carrots,” he said, holding a pouch. “Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States in Baltimore.”

“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” the president said.

Obama also received an encyclical.

“I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down,” the president said smiling.

When the president told the pope that he could visit the White House garden, the pope responded in Spanish: “Como no,” which translates to “why not?” Or “for sure.”

Federal employees—and Obama is one of them– are banned, by law, of keeping anything worth more than $350, so most items end up in government archives storage. Some items—such as art, vases and rugs—can be put on display.

Thanks to the pool reporters on the scene, Michael D. Shear of The New York Times and Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico for the details in their reports:


President Barack Obama presented His Holiness Pope Francis with a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden.  Earlier this month, Pope Francis made the historic announcement that he would open to the public the gardens of the papal summer residence, the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo.

The chest is made from American leather, and features reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals built in the United States. 

The Basilica’s cornerstone was laid by John Carroll, a Jesuit and the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States.  The Cathedral was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, who was selected by President Thomas Jefferson to serve as an Architect of the Capitol, and played a pivotal role in its design and construction.

The inscription on the chest reads:

Presented to His Holiness Pope Francis

by Barack Obama

President of the United States of America

March 27, 2014

In keeping with the spirit of the gift, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello will donate seeds that will yield several tons of produce to a charity of Pope Francis’ choosing.


“The pope presented the president with two medallions, including one that symbolized the need for solidarity and peace between the northern and southern hemispheres.

…The other gift was a copy of Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel.” This was the book that prompted Obama to say he would read it in the Oval Office when he needs a lift. It is a 2013 apostolic exhortation by Francis that called a new era evangelization and for a renewed focus on the world’s poor.

RELATED: When presidents meet popes (photo gallery); Obama tells Pope Francis he is a ‘great admirer’

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