WASHINGTON – 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 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.
Thirty-one per cent of members of Congress are Catholic, compared with 22 per cent 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 per cent of lawmakers who are Protestant.
Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome, Rachel Zoll in New York and David Espo, Donna Cassata and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.