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Published: Thursday March 27, 2014 MYT 8:41:25 PM
Updated: Thursday March 27, 2014 MYT 8:42:37 PM

Obama invites pope to White House

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - President Barack Obama met Pope Francis for the first time on Thursday and invited the pontiff to visit the White House.

Obama made the spontaneous invitation as he was giving Francis a symbolic gift of seeds from the White House garden after 50 minutes of private talks in the pope's library.

"If you have a chance, you can come to the White House and you can see the garden," Obama said to the pope as he was explaining the gift in the presence of reporters.

The Pope, responding in Spanish, said "Como no?" (For sure).

The Catholic Church in the United States wants the pope to visit Philadelphia in 2015 for an international gathering of families.

At the end of their private talks, Obama gave the pope a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden.

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

Apart from the symbolic seeds donated to the pope on Thursday, the White House said seeds would be donated in the United States that will yield several tons of produce to a charity of Pope Francis' choosing.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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