Tomorrow President Barack Obama will become the 12th American president to have a papal audience. Catholic News Service gives a little history and context:
Obama is continuing a tradition that is only 90 years old.
The first U.S. president to visit the Vatican was Woodrow Wilson, who met with Pope Benedict XV in 1919 while on a European tour after World War I.
The next presidential visit was a full 40 years later; Dwight D. Eisenhower met Pope John XXIII in 1959.
Since then, each U.S. president has made a trip to the Vatican.
Meeting Pope Paul VI were John F. Kennedy in 1963; Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967; Richard M. Nixon in 1969 and 1970; and Gerald R. Ford in 1975.
Jimmy Carter was the next to visit, meeting Pope John Paul in 1980. Ronald Reagan met him in 1982 and 1987, as well as after leaving office. George H.W. Bush met him in 1989 and 1991. Bill Clinton came to the Vatican in 1994.
George W. Bush met Pope John Paul in 2001 at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo and at the Vatican in 2002 and 2004. In addition to attending Pope John Paul’s funeral in 2005, he visited the Vatican in 2007 and again in 2008 to meet with Pope Benedict.
Beginning with Carter’s visit, the pope’s remarks to his presidential visitors focused on two themes: the need for world peace and the obligation to protect human life, particularly the life of the unborn.
The two topics still top the list of the pope’s concerns for the United States.