Pope Francis will address a joint session in Congress on Sept. 24 during his visit to the United States, House Speaker John Boehner announced Thursday. He will be the first leader of the Catholic Church to do so.
"We are humbled that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation," Boehner said during his weekly press conference. In a follow up statement, he said, "In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father's message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds. 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 actually sent the open invitation to the Pope to address Congress last March and released a statement saying that a joint address would offer "an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, issued his own statement, saying, "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. 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."
At least one politician, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, suggested that the pope's visit might influence the way Republican lawmakers legislative now that they are in control of Congress. After Francis' speech was announced, Sanders sent a tweet with a quote from the pope that reads, "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system."
The quote appeared in Francis' first "apostolic exhortation," or written communication from the pope. It was notable that he borrowed the phrase "trickle-down economics," a concept that was popularized by former President Ronald Reagan's policies. Many Republicans back that economic theory, and have clashed with Francis over both economic and environmental positions.
The pope is scheduled to visit Washington, New York City and Philadelphia in late September.