House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced today that Sept. 24 will be when Pope Francis makes history as the first pontiff to address a joint session of Congress.
“We are humbled that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation and certainly look forward to receiving his message on behalf of the American people,” Boehner told reporters today.
The pope took his time to respond. Boehner first invited Francis in March 2014.
“It is my great privilege to announce that His Holiness Pope Francis will visit the United States Capitol on Thursday, September 24, 2015. On that day, he will become the first leader of the Holy See to address a joint meeting of Congress. It will be a historic visit, and we are truly grateful that Pope Francis has accepted our invitation,” Boehner said in a formal announcement released by his office.
“In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds,” he continued. “His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another. We look forward to warmly welcoming Pope Francis to our Capitol and hearing his address on behalf of the American people.”
Boehner, who is Catholic, led an effort to urge Pope John Paul II to address Congress in the 1990s, but that never worked out. No pope has addressed Congress before.
Whereas Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) freaked out about Boehner inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she joined Boehner extending the invitation to Francis in March.
Pelosi said today she was “honored and overjoyed” that the pope accepted.
“Pope Francis has renewed the faith of Catholics worldwide and inspired a new generation of people, regardless of their religious affiliation, to be instruments of peace. In the spirit of the namesake of San Francisco, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis’ universal message of love and compassion speaks to millions around the world,” she said.
“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.”
Pope Francis’ swing through the U.S. in September will take him to Philly and New York in addition to D.C. He’ll be addressing the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama has “been anticipating a visit from Pope Francis here to the United States for quite some time.”
Asked if Vice President Joe Biden would attend the pope’s address, Earnest said Biden’s schedule “for that period of time has not been set but I would anticipate that he would be there.”
“So why can’t you say the same about Prime Minister Netanyahu?” a reporter asked.
“Well, the vice president’s schedule for the first week of March is also not yet set,” Earnest replied. “…There has been at least one previous occasion during his tenure as the vice president where he’s been unable to attend a joint session of Congress, because he was traveling overseas. So when we have more details about the vice president’s schedule for the first week of March, we’ll certainly let you know.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was “delighted” by the announcement, said he hopes “very much that Congress listens closely to the pope’s message.”
“The pope has played an extraordinary international role since he was elected in speaking out about the growing gap between the rich and everybody else and the power large financial institutions exert over the American and world economies,” Sanders said.
“The American people look forward to hearing Pope Francis’ call to love our neighbors and to find new and creative ways to meet the pressing needs of those who exist on the fringes of society,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “From the slums of Buenos Aires to St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis is moving the hearts of millions and inspiring a new generation with an engaging and compelling style. I join Speaker Boehner in welcoming this inspirational leader, with his simple message of compassion and openness to others, to the Capitol.”