House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) extended a historic open invitation to address a joint session of Congress to Pope Francis. The invitation was issued on occasion of Francis' first anniversary as Pontiff.
A pope has visited the United Nations four times, but the head of the Catholic Church has never addressed a joint session of Congress.
John Paul II came to the U.S. seven times, and three popes have visited the United States since 1965.
Boehner's full statement:
"It is with reverence and admiration that I have invited Pope Francis, as head of state of the Holy See and the first Pope to hail from the Americas, to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.
"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.
"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.
"These principles are among the fundamentals of the American Idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good. Many in the United States believe these principles are undermined by 'crony capitalism' and the ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity. They have embraced Pope Francis' reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations. We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other.
"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. It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.
"It is with deep gratitude that I have asked Pope Francis to consider this open invitation on behalf of the Congress and the millions of citizens of the United States we serve."
While Boehner's invitation does not mention Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the previous speaker of the House and a famously pro-abortion Catholic, issued her own statement saying she was "pleased to join Speaker Boehner in inviting" the pope:
"As we approach the first anniversary of the inauguration of Pope Francis, I am pleased to join Speaker Boehner in inviting His Holiness to address a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress.
"Whether inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, who cared for all of God's creation, or by St. Joseph, protector of the church, Pope Francis has lived his values and upheld his promise to be a moral force, to protect the poor and the needy, to serve as a champion of the less fortunate, and to promote love and understanding among faiths and nations."
While President Obama is slated to meet Pope Francis on March 27th at the Vatican, it remains to be seen whether the Pope will take Congress up on its offer.
One wonders if he will reiterate - to Obama and to Congress - his message that the unborn, poor, sick, elderly and disabled are "victims" in a "throwaway culture?" In the case of Obama, we may have an answer in two weeks' time!