By Sahil Nandwani
The relatively new head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, will become the first religious figurehead to address a joint session of Congress on September 24th. This is part of his 5-day long tour of the United States. News of this comes as a shock to many as Pope Francis, an Argentinian, has never visited America, which holds the 4th-largest Roman Catholic population in the world.
His inspiration to travel to this country has come from a private meeting with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. In an interview with The New York Times, Cardinal Dolan recalled that the pope, unknowlegable of American cities, opened an atlas and asked him to explain the characteristics and distinctions of major regions and metropoli. Learning from this meeting, the pontiff endeavored to research America before planning his first visit.
This journey comes as a shock as the leader of the Holy See has constantly condemned capitalism and is largely opposed to the nation’s emphasis on individual growth rather than economic equality. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he avoided the wealthy in favor of spending time with the poor and underprivileged, a behavior that continues to define his humble lifestyle and a main purpose of his tour. Instead of dining in the lavish homes of politicians and other leaders, Pope Francis will focus his time on visiting places like the Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem and Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia.
His tour begins in Washington D.C.. In the first two days after arrival, the pope will address Congress and visit the White House. Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, are highly anticipating this visit, especially Speaker Boehner, who has been on a 20-year long mission to bring the pontiff to Congress.
“I’m really happy that the pope has accepted my invitation,” the Speaker said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “You know, for a kid who grew up going to mass every morning, this is a pretty humbling experience.”
He has also successfully requested a rare, one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis shortly before the joint session. It is unclear what the address will be about, but this will definitely fuel a revival of piety in the 164 Catholic members of Congress.
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