WASHINGTON (RNS) Pope Francis will make an unprecedented address to Congress on Sept. 24 during his first visit to the United States.
House Speaker John Boehner announced Thursday (Feb. 5) that the pontiff accepted the invitation Boehner extended last year.
"In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds," Boehner said in a statement. "His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another."
No pope or religious leader who serves as a head of state has ever addressed Congress, according to the U.S. House Historian's Office.
In a brief statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said: "It is a great honor and tremendous joy to welcome our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to the Archdiocese of Washington during his proposed pastoral visit to the United States in September.
"We rejoice with the announcement by the Speaker ... today that Pope Francis will address a Joint Session of Congress, September 24, 2015. This historic event will be a time of grace for all of us."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who like Boehner is a Catholic, said in a statement that she was "honored and overjoyed" that Pope Francis would address Congress. "Pope Francis has renewed the faith of Catholics worldwide and inspired a new generation of people, regardless of their religious affiliation, to be instruments of peace," she said.
Francis is scheduled to visit New York, Philadelphia and Washington this fall. He is widely expected to address the United Nations, as well.
(Susan Davis writes for USA Today. Kevin Eckstrom contributed to this story.)