Pope Francis and the Catholic Church commemorated the first anniversary of his election as pope on Thursday, March 13. Congressional leaders took this as an opportunity to invite Francis to Washington to address Congress.
Although the pope has not announced any formal plans to visit the United States, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are hopeful that Pope Francis will bring some peace to a much divided Congress.
Pelosi and Boehner, both Catholics, were highly complimentary of the pope in their statements announcing their invitations. The pope has been highly well-received to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, making a potential visit to the U.S. exciting to many Americans.
“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,” said Boehner in a statement. Pelosi’s statement was equally admiring of the pope, reflecting that she was inspired by his “message of peace, compassion and brotherhood.”
The invitation marks an increase in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Vatican. The U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the Vatican until 1984, according to the Washington Post.
“Our country has a history of anti-Catholicism,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the bishops’ conference.
Boehner’s invitation addressed that over the past year, Pope Francis’ role of the papacy and his teachings “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.” Boehner continued to say that Francis’ 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.”
This marks the first time a pope has been invited to address Congress, Rev. Gerald Fogarty believes. Fogarty, historian of Christianity at the University of Virginia, noted that other popes have visited the White House, but not yet Congress.
President Obama is scheduled for an audience with Pope Francis when he visits the Vatican on March 27, according to CNN.
U.S. politicians will pay close attention to the interaction between the two leaders due to Pope Francis’ comments of his skepticism towards capitalism. The pope voiced his opinion that capitalism has failed young people as well as the elderly, according to NBC News. He referred to capitalism as “a new tyranny,” and said that “a people that cares neither for its youth nor for its older people has no future. Today we are living in unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”
Editor’s Note: Information from CNN and NBC News was used in this report.