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Pope Francis is bringing his message of humility and hope, to Capitol Hill and become the first pontiff in history to speak to a joint meeting of Congress.  Lawmakers of all political backgrounds and religious affiliations are excited about the pope’s arrival and pledged to take a break from the bickering that normally divides them to hear him out Thursday morning.

Tens of thousands of spectators will be watching from not just the West Lawn of the Capitol but many more will view the address on TV from around the world as the pope speaks in front of a House chamber packed with Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials, diplomats, lawmakers and their guests.

Lawmakers of both parties have already busily sought political advantage from the pope’s stances.  For example democrats in particular are delighted in his support for action to overhaul immigration laws and combat global warming and income inequality.

However one House Republican announced plans to boycott the speech over Francis’ activist position on climate change, which the pontiff renewed alongside President Barack Obama on Wednesday.  For Congress as well as Boehner, the pope arrives at a time of turmoil, with a partial government shutdown looming next week if lawmakers can’t resolve a dispute over funding for Planned Parenthood related to the group’s practices providing fetal tissue for research.

Francis is certain to steer clear of such controversies, though his opposition to abortion could rejuvenate the Republicans efforts against Planned Parenthood. The pope said on Wednesday that in addressing Congress “I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles.”

After speaking in the House chamber Francis will visit the Capitol’s Statuary Hall and its statue of Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century missionary whom Francis elevated to sainthood Wednesday in the first canonization on U.S. soil. The pope will then briefly step out onto a Capitol balcony to address the crowds on the West Front and from there he will stop at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Finally he will then depart for New York for more prayer services and a speech to the United Nations.


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