By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY, March 26, 2014 (Zenit.org) – The world will be watching tomorrow as US President Barack Obama will have his first meeting with Pope Francis. The president’s wife, Michelle Obama, along with US Secretary of State, John Kerry, are also expected to be present.
A representative from the US Embassy to the Holy See told ZENIT that President Obama would likely raise “global poverty and inequality issues” with the Pope. The representative also said that Obama will “discuss a range of global issues” with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
One of the major international issues that will probably be discussed are the rising tensions between the US and Russia. The US, along with several European allies, have laid sanctions on key Russian politicians after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
While specifics on what will be discussed are very limited, many are speculating that the disputed Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate will be among the topics discussed. The mandate was discussed in January during Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to the Vatican. Following that visit, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said that the Holy See “expressed its concern, shared by the bishops of the United States, regarding rules regulating the health reform relating to guaranteeing freedom of religion and conscientious objection.”
The Health and Human Services (HHS) federal mandate requires employers to pay for insurance that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization procedures to employees. Although an exemption was made for religious institutions, many Catholic organization or Catholic-run businesses are forced to abide by the regulation or face heavy fines.
Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned arts and crafts store, is fighting the mandate saying that certain contraceptives result in abortions, thus contradicting their religious beliefs. Currently, the case is before the US Supreme Court and a decision is expected in June.
Commentators have noted that polls show Pope Francis is significantly more popular among US citizens than President Obama is.