WASHINGTON, DC — House Speaker John Boehner announced Thursday that Pope Francis has accepted his invitation to address a joint meeting of Congress, and will appear on Sept. 24.
The visit will mark the first time the head of the Catholic church addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
Boehner, who frequently references his own Catholic faith, said “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.”
The Speaker issued an open invitation to the pope last March, on the one year anniversary of Francis becoming the leader of the Catholic church.
The Pope’s trip to the United States later this year had been confirmed but the exact details were not known. He’s expected to attend a World Meeting of Families summit in Philadelphia, which is occurring during Sept. 22-27. In November 2014, the pope said he would also visit New York during his September 2015 visit.
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan noted he was looking forward to the visit to his home state, but said with so many people expected to come out in Philadelphia, “the access will be limited.”
“The chance to be on the floor when he addresses the joint session I think will one of the highlights for me,” Meehan said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is also Catholic, said in a written statement she was “overjoyed” the pope agreed to come this fall.
“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,” Pelosi said.
The announcement of the Pope’s visit to address Congress comes after Boehner sparked controversy by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a similar speech — without coordinating with the White House beforehand.
Asked if the Pope’s visit was coordinated, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest alluded to the Netanyahu flap, saying: “Didn’t have to used to ask those questions, did we?”
“I can tell you that the President and his team here at the White House have been anticipating the visit from Pope Francis here in the United States for quite some time, and even as far back as the President’s visit to the Vatican where he first met Pope Francis he talked about how eager he was to welcome the Pope to the United Sates, so the President is certainly looking forward to this visit,” Earnest said.