Pope Francis to be first pontiff to speak before US Congress

(Photo: REUTERS / Max Rossi)Pope Francis is presented with a soccer jersey with his name from FC Barcelona soccer club president Josep Maria Bartomeu as he leads a meeting for the 4th World Congress of Educational Scholas Occurrentes in the Synod hall at the Vatican February 5, 2015

Pope Francis is to address the U.S. Congress during his visit in September, the first time a pontiff has been invited to speak at the Capitol.

House Speaker John Boehner announced on February 5 that Francis has accepted the U.S. Congress invitation to speak before the legislature, which will convene a joint session of both chambers to mark the occasion.

"On that day, he will become the first leader of the Holy See to address a joint meeting of Congress," said Boehner who is an Ohio representative of the Republican Party.

"It will be a historic visit, and we are truly grateful that Pope Francis has accepted our invitation."

Boehner expressed excitement over the upcoming papal visit, saying Francis' message has resonated with people from different walks of life.

"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 noted.

"His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another."

The minority leader in the lower chamber, Nancy Pelosi said she was "honored and overjoyed" to learn that Francis accepted the invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress.

She considered the Pope's message as inspirational regardless of one's faith.

"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 in a statement.

"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."

"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 continued.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said it looked forward to the Pope's September pastoral visit, saying the trip "will be a time of grace for all of us."

Francis disclosed his trip to the U.S. as he flew back to Rome from a two-country swing in Asia. He is to visit Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC, where he plans to lead the canonization rite of Blessed Junipero Serra.

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