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Pope Francis Given Invitation to Address U.S. Congress

March 13 (Bloomberg) -- House Speaker John Boehner issued Pope Francis an open invitation to speak to Congress “and the millions of citizens of the United States we serve.”

“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,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said today in a statement.

The invitation, issued one year to the day after he was elected supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church, would make Francis the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress, according to House records.

Francis is considering a visit to the U.S. in 2015, CNN reported in January.

Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is seen as an honor for U.S. lawmakers to give a visiting world leader. Francis, in addition to leading the Roman Catholic Church, is also the head of state of the Holy See.

Congress has received more than 100 world leaders in joint meetings dating to 1874, when lawmakers gathered to hear King Kalakaua of Hawaii, a country that would later become a state. Others to receive the honor include Winston Churchill, Pierre Trudeau, Angela Merkel, Queen Elizabeth II and, most recently, President Park Geun Hye of South Korea.

‘Awakened Hearts’

Francis is credited with reinvigorating the church after revelations of years of child abuse from some priests and financial scandals at the Vatican bank, also known as the Institute for Works of Religion. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, became the first pontiff since the 1400s to resign when he stepped down in February 2013.

Francis has made headlines for softening the church’s tone on issues from divorce to homosexuality, while urging his priests to increase their focus on the poor. Photos of him embracing a disfigured man went viral. Francis has eschewed many of the trappings of his office, including ornate living quarters, for a more humble approach.

Time Magazine named him its most recent Person of the Year.

Boehner said in a statement the pope had “inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership,” while his calls for a greater focus on the least of these has “awakened hearts on every continent.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Pope Francis has lived his values and upheld his promise to be a moral force, to protect the poor and the needy, to serve as a champion of the less fortunate, and to promote love and understanding among faiths and nations.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Derek Wallbank in Washington at dwallbank@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net Laurie Asseo

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