WASHINGTON — Speaker John Boehner Thursday invited Pope Francis to address a joint session of Congress should he visit the United States, saying the address "would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full."
"The Holy Father's pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties. His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions," Boehner, a devout Catholic, said in a statement.
Addresses to a joint session of Congress are a rare event, and are typically reserved for the President or visiting heads of state. If Francis accepts Boehner's invitation, sources said it appears his speech would mark the first by a religious leader.
Although the Vatican has not announced a trip to the United States, Francis is reportedly considering coming the U.S. next year and Boehner's invitation would be an open ended one.
Since his ascension to the papacy last year, Francis has sent jolts through the Catholic Church by focusing on poverty and equality issues.
"Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service. His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us-the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn-has awakened hearts on every continent," Boehner noted in his statement.
"His social teachings, rooted in 'the joy of the gospel,' have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice," he added.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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