New details were released this morning about Pope Francis’ September visit to Washington, with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announcing that the speech will be broadcast live outside the Capitol, followed by possible public appearance by Francis himself.
“The visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. Capitol is a historic moment for the country. Given the unprecedented nature of his visit, Pope Francis’ address to a joint meeting of Congress will be broadcast live to members of the public on the West Front of the Capitol,” Boehner said in a statement Wednesday.
“In addition, Pope Francis has expressed an interest in making a brief appearance on the West Front. We look forward to welcoming Pope Francis and Americans from all walks of life to our Capitol on September 24,” he continued.
According to Congressional aides, the atmosphere outside the Capitol will resemble a presidential inauguration.
Possible images of a pope greeting the public with the iconic US Capitol building as a backdrop will be novel, the possibility of which was unimaginable until relatively recently. The United States and the Holy See – the diplomatic name for the Vatican – didn’t establish formal relations until 1984.
Francis, the first pope from the Americas, is immensely popular in the United States, with huge majorities of Catholics, liberals, conservatives, and even the unaffiliated giving him high marks in several polls.
Boehner, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), are both Catholic, and while they have issued separate statements praising Pope Francis and welcoming his decision to visit Washington, the pontiff’s message in September is expected to challenge both leaders.
While Francis will undoubtedly speak about the need for greater environmental protections and better treatment of immigrants, two issues close to his heart, he may also challenge what he sees as the excesses of capitalism that produce a “throwaway culture,” which results high unemployment and a general disregard for human life.
Francis lands at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 22, and he will meet with President Barack Obama the following morning at the White House.
During his stay in Washington, the pope will also speak to US bishops during a prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, canonize Junipero Serra during a Mass at the Catholic University of America, and visit the headquarters of DC’s Catholic Charities office before departing for New York on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Boehner’s statement said ticketing information for the public component will be released at a later date.