Pope Francis First Religious Leader to be Invited to Address Joint Session of Congress

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
President Obama visits with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014 (photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images)

When Pope Francis speaks before a joint session of Congress on September 24, he will become the first religious leader to do so.


The U.S. Congress has invited dozens of world leaders and prominent political figures to address U.S. lawmakers. But religious authority figures have never before had the honor.


The list of individuals who have spoken before Congress includes everyone from King Kalakaua of Hawaii in 1874 to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April of this year. In 1960, French President Charles de Gaulle gave a speech, and in 1992 it was Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Polish labor union leader Lech Walesa delivered an address in 1989, while British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proved so popular that he was invited to speak on three occasions—1941, 1943 and 1953.


Pope Francis is expected to speak to lawmakers in both Spanish and English because he “is not fully comfortable in English,” according to The Washington Post.


While the Pope’s first, and possibly only, visit to the U.S. will include many stops beyond the U.S. Congress, Capitol Hill will be working overtime in maneuvering and manipulating the logistics of this single event, according to the Post’s Michelle Boorstein. “Which presidential candidate gets close and who doesn’t? How much time should he spend in Boehner’s office and with whom? Will lawmakers stand and clap for lines they support and remain seated for those they oppose? Those are all elements under discussion. The lobbying for access will continue until the last moment.”

-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

An Exclusive Look at the Draft Schedule for Pope Francis’s U.S. Trip This Fall (by Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post)

Pope Will Address Congress in September (by Jake Sherman, Politico)

Joint Meeting & Joint Session Addresses Before Congress by Foreign Leaders & Dignitaries (U.S. House of Representatives)


Suzanne Baruch 8 years ago
What Richard Stadelmann wrote is mostly correct. Rev. Campbell was the leader of the American Restoration Movement, which gave birth to non-denominational churches within the United States. He was not the leader of the Church of Christ, which didn't exist until after Campbell had died. He addressed a joint session of Congress in 1850, and indeed his speech lasted an hour and a half long, but it was not about the Civil War (which wouldn't begin for another 11 years), but about "Church-State relations."
Richard W. Stadelmann 8 years ago
Pope Francis is not the first religious leader to address a joint session of Congress. The first was Rev. Alexander Campbell, the leader of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and what became the Church of Christ. The address was an hour and a half long, and presented proposals that would have prevented the Civil War. In Henry Clay's words (paraphrased) it was the most intelligent speech every heard by Congress, and also one of the most politically foolish.
neoconderson 8 years ago
FYI, the Dalai Lama gave the opening prayer in front of the U.S. Senate just a year ago. Not the same as addressing a joint session of Congress, but he did specifically pray to Buddha in the Tibetan language.

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