WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 27.
A White House announcement said the president looks forward to discussing their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality.
Increasing inequality in the United States and globally has been a major issue for the president, and the focus of at least two major speeches since 2011.
In a speech in Washington, DC in December, he said the U.S. economy has become "profoundly unequal" with the economy doubling in size since 1979, but most income growth going to a fortunate few.
And he noted a remark by Pope Francis.
"This trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy," he said. "Across the developed world, inequality has increased. Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. "How can it be, he wrote, that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"
Obama has commented on other remarks Pope Francis has made since he was elected pontiff last year.
On the issues of abortion, homosexuality and contraception, Pope Francis last year, in an interview with the Italian Jesuit journal, voiced frustration that the Church had "locked itself up in small things [and] small-minded rules."
In a CNBC interview last October, Obama said he was "hugely impressed" by the pontiff's remarks.
"He seems somebody who lives out the teaching of Christ, incredible humility, a incredible sense of empathy to the least of these, to the poor. And he is also somebody who is I think first and foremost thinking about how to embrace people as opposed to push them away," he said.
In 2009, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
Obama's European trip will also include the Nuclear Security Summit being hosted by The Netherlands March 24 to 25.
The first was hosted by Obama in 2010. The White House says leaders meeting in The Netherlands will highlight progress made to secure nuclear materials and commit to future steps to prevent nuclear terrorism.
Obama will also attend the U.S.-EU Summit in Brussels and meet with Belgian officials and the NATO secretary general.
In Italy, President Obama will meet with President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Obama and Prime Minister Letta held wide-ranging talks at the White House this past October, covering trade, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan.