WASHINGTON (AP) — Pope Francis will address a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24, House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday, a first for the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics.
While it was known that Francis had been invited to address American lawmakers, Boehner’s announcement was the first word that Francis was coming and that a date was set.
“We’re humbled that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation and certainly look forward to receiving his message on behalf of the American people,” said Boehner, a Catholic who had asked Francis to come to Capitol Hill.
During his planned trip to the United States, Francis also is expected to visit the White House and speak at the United Nations. He will participate in a massive Catholic rally for families in Philadelphia.
It will be Francis’ first visit to the U.S. in a papacy that began two years ago.
Boehner’s announcement comes only weeks after the speak issued a controversial invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will speak to Congress about Iran on March 3, two weeks before he seeks re-election.
Boehner, R-Ohio, made the offer to the Israeli leader without consulting President Barack Obama, and has angered the White House and congressional Democrats.
As pope, Francis has taken positions on some issues that clash with the views of Republicans who now control the House and Senate.
He has made helping immigrants a centerpiece of his pontificate. He has decried what he has called the world’s indifference to immigrant suffering and pressed wealthier countries to take in more people. He often has denounced the global financial system and trickle-down economic theories.
In June or July, Francis plans to release an encyclical, or teaching document, on climate change, which he has called mostly man-made. He plans to use his trip to the U.S. to urge world leaders to curb global warming ahead of the next round of U.N. climate change talks this fall in Paris.
At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Obama said he looked forward to welcoming the pope to the U.S. “Like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable,” the president said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, noted that the Argentinian-born Francis is the first pope born in the Americas.
“We are eager to welcome His Holiness to the U.S. Capitol and we look forward to hearing his call to live our values, to protect the poor and the needy, and to promote peace,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Francis “is moving the hearts of millions and inspiring a new generation with an engaging and compelling style.”
Thirty-one percent of members of Congress are Catholic, compared with 22 percent of the overall public, according to a survey released last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. The largest denomination in Congress is the 57 percent of lawmakers who are Protestant.
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, visited Washington and New York during a trip in April 2008. His visit included a meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House, a celebration of Mass at Nationals Stadium and a speech at Catholic University.
Paul VI became the first pope to visit the United States with his October 1965 visit that included a landmark appeal for peace at the United Nations at the height of the Vietnam War. He did not travel to Washington during the visit.
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