By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

NNPA Columnist

History is often made by leaders who make a consequential difference in quality of life of people. The world has now witnessed the historic meeting between the first African American to serve as president of the United States and the first Latin American to be Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  President Barack Obama and Pope Francis met recently at the Vatican in the heart of Rome.

At 77, Pope Francis, who was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is 25 years older than President Obama  The 266th Pope  is easily the most powerful religious leader in the world, the head of more than 1 billion Roman Catholics throughout the world.  In  the U.S. alone, there are more than 3 million African American Catholics. Though considerable, that’s just a fraction of the 270 million-plus Catholics of African descent across the Diaspora.

With a deep political divide in the U.S., President Obama remains the most powerful political leader in the world.

Even the cynical establishment U.S. media in the U.S. praised the Obama-Francis dialogue as being crucial to the world discourse on income inequality, hunger and poverty, health care, immigration reform and the fundamental human rights of all. A CBS News correspondent remarked, “A visibly energized President Obama held a nearly hour-long audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, expressing his great admiration for the pontiff and inviting him to visit the White House.”

Obama is acutely aware of his low standing in public opinion polls.  There is a scripture that seems particularly apt in this case: “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” {Mark 6:4, KJV} This is not to suggest to President Obama is a prophet. Rather, the point is that the president’s leadership can be properly described as prophetic as he pushes the socioeconomic envelope on such issues of equal justice and fairness for all people.

And it is in this type of setting – the most powerful religious person in the world sitting down with the most powerful political person in the world – that we are reminded of the enormous responsibility the president carries as a national and international fixture.

Many people, especially “in his own country, and among his own kin,” would like the president to adopt an even stronger posture opposing various voter suppression schemes and pushing harder to close the income inequality gap.

But that’s a tall order than cannot be accomplished in two presidential terms.

This is a good time to remind ourselves, as a leading sociologist at the Catholic University of America did recently when he said:  “A good deal of the economic agenda of President Obama and of the Democratic Party is consonant with Catholic social teaching.” I would expand that by saying it is also consonant with the teachings of other religious groups.

While President Obama’s meeting with Pope Francis was originally scheduled for only 30 minutes, it lasted almost an hour.  At the end, Pope Francis gave President Obama a “strategic theological” gift. It was a copy of Pope Francis’ papal mission statement, “The Joy of the Gospel,” that has a sharp focus on “decrying a global economic system that excludes the poor.”

President Obama thanked the Pope for the gift and promised to read it and keep it as a ready reference on his desk in the White House.  President Obama, in turn, presented Pope Francis with fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House garden.

For of millions of poor and oppressed people, the hope and prayer is that the bond between President Obama and Pope Francis will extend beyond a courtesy call to the Vatican. Ultimately, each leader will be judged by what he does for “the least of these” among us. .

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is president of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at:

Dr. Benamin F. Chavis, Jr.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is presently the CEO & President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the President of Education Online Services Corporation (EOServe Corp), the world’s...

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