US & Canada

Pope Francis to address Congress in historic papal speech

Pope Francis laughs as he meets with newly married couples at the end of his weekly general audience at the Paul VI hall on January 28, 2015 at the Vatican. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Pope has not shied away from airing his views on contentious political issues

Pope Francis is due to become the first ever pontiff to speak before the US Congress, lawmakers in Washington have announced.

The head of the Catholic Church will make his speech on 24 September.

"That day his holiness will be the first pope in our history to address a joint session of Congress," said House Speaker John Boehner.

"I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States," said President Barack Obama.

Around one in three members of Congress are Catholic, as are both the House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Republican Mr Boehner.

"We're humbled that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation and certainly look forward to receiving his message on behalf of the American people,'' said Mr Boehner.

The trip is expected to include a White House meeting with President Obama.

In addition the Pope is due to make a speech to the United Nations in New York and attend a Catholic rally in Philadelphia.

Deep divisions

Pope Francis has not refrained from airing his political views since being elected head of the Catholic Church in March 2013.

He has made support for immigrants a key plank of papal policy.

But he has also taken a traditionally Catholic line on contraception and abortion.

His views may put him at odds with members of Congress, which is riven by deep political divisions on these and other issues.

The first Pope to visit the US was Paul VI during a 1965 trip at the height of the Vietnam War.

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