President Barack Obama met Pope Francis today, and one of the photos taken evokes another papal meeting.
Here is Russian President Vladimir Putin with Francis in November:
What makes the juxtaposition so fascinating is that the pope’s smile is quite similar, while the overall body language in the two photos are quite different.
One could read what they want into the snapshots — that Obama is aloof while Putin is straightforward — but it can also be seen as a sort of cosmic pun given what’s happening in the world.
As Mark Mardell of BBC notes, Obama’s dilemma in regards to Ukraine can be explained through a joke by Stalin: “How many divisions has the Pope?”
Mardell explains that Stalin’s point — recently echoed by Putin in Crimea — was that “the greatest moral authority in the world is still impotent in the face of the sort of power that comes from the barrel of a gun.”
What’s also noteworthy is a comparison of the topics of conversation during the two visits, and the two international crises discussed that have included both heads of state. Putin and the pope discussed the crisis in Syria in November, along with the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world — specifically, in Russia.
On Thursday, the Vatican said Pope Francis and Obama discussed the hope that “there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved” — an implicit reference to the Ukrainian crisis. Of course, the U.S. and Russia have been at odds during both conflicts.
Here’s another pair of photos sharing an uncanny parallel. This time, in the first photo, both the pope and Putin are stone-faced in front of a painting of Jesus Christ.
In the second, both he and Obama are smiling in front of that same painting:
Without drawing too much out of four photos, the body language alone says something about the world we live in.
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