House Speaker John Boehner will have a rare private one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis during his visit to the Capitol, one of the many closely held details that are beginning to trickle out two weeks before the pontiff’s trip to Washington.
House and Senate leaders will join Boehner at the end of his meeting for to welcome Pope Francis before the leader of the Roman Catholic Church addresses a joint session of Congress.
Interviews with several Capitol Hill sources have begun to pull the veil back on the visit, which is among the most anticipated in several decades. Boehner, a devout Catholic, has been on a 20-year mission to bring a pope to the Capitol. The Ohio Republican has invited every leader of the Roman Catholic Church to Capitol Hill during his 24 years in Congress. And earlier this spring, Pope Francis agreed, leading to a multi-month planning session that included weekly meetings between Capitol Police, the Sergeant at Arms of the House and Senate, the speaker’s office and the Architect of the Capitol.
Lawmakers are only provided one ticket to attend the joint address, which is the marquee event in the pope’s three-day Washington visit. Pope Francis is not expected to deliver a lengthy speech. Hill insiders expect it will run roughly 20 minutes — about half as long as a typical joint session speech. Pope Francis will speak in English. And he will be treated as the head of state of the Holy See, not as a religious figure.
House Republican leadership — which organized the event — has been coordinating logistics with the Vatican, but has not discussed the substance of the speech with the pope’s staff. Pope Francis has used the papacy to speak out on a wide range of topics, including immigration reform and the need to care for the poor. His speech could also touch on some incendiary political topics, such as abortion and climate change, which could run crosswise with Democrats and Republicans.
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