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President Obama Gifts Pope Francis A Seed Chest From The Baltimore Basilica

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Mary Bubala joined WJZ in December 2003. She now anchors the 4-4:30...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore Basilica had a secret–a gift directly from Baltimore would be given to the Pope from the president. It involved century-old mahogany from the first cathedral in the United States.

Mary Bubala has the story.

President Barack Obama’s gift to Pope Francis carries Baltimore right into the Vatican. It’s a custom seed chest made with wood from the Baltimore Basilica.

The century old mahogany came from pews in the sister’s gallery, where Carmelite nuns once sat, along with other historical holy figures.

“Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II, other dignitaries who had been here had used those pews,” said Monsignor Arthur Valenzano, Basilica rector.

Just one month ago, Monsignor Valenzano got a call from the state department asking if the basilica–the first Catholic Cathedral in the U.S.–could help with a gift for the pope.

“They said, ‘Could we have something that is actually part of the basilica?’ So that when the president gives a gift from the United States it can also represent the beginnings of the Catholic Church in the United States,” said Valenzano. “We looked around and said, ‘What could we possibly do?’ And then they came up with the idea.”

The seed chest is filled with pouches of fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House garden.

The president’s gift was inspired by the pope’s decision to open the papal gardens to the public this summer.

“And the seed will be used to feed the poor. It’s a symbol of light, it’s a symbol of nourishment. Powerful symbol,” Valenzano said.

The basilica’s cornerstone was laid by John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. and a Jesuit just like Pope Francis.

More seeds to fill the chest will be sent to the pope from the garden at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

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