The Pope is Coming to Congress.
Here’s What He’ll Do.
Well, it only took me a few tries and 20 years or so. But finally, tomorrow, the Pope will visit the United States Capitol.
We just had our last rehearsal, so I thought I’d give you a sneak preview of how all this is going to go. You’ll be able to follow along throughout the morning at speaker.gov/pope.
9:20 a.m.: Pope Francis and the Official Delegation enter the Capitol.
9:25 a.m.: Speaker Boehner welcomes the Pope.
By about 9:15, I will be in my ceremonial office across from the House floor, getting ready to greet him. People have asked me what I’ll be thinking about. It’s not really a quiet moment, per since you’ve got a pack of photographers there waiting too.
One thing I can tell you: typically, I ask our guest how their economy is doing, and go from there. Will have to think of something else.
It’ll come to me.
The Joint Meeting
9:46: The Speaker calls the House to order upon the arrival of the Senate.
First, the Vice President and I will read the names of the Escort Committee — basically a bipartisan group of Members and Senators who will walk into the chamber with the Pope.
At that point, a series of announced arrivals will begin: the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, members of the Supreme Court, and members of the President’s Cabinet. It’s the same routine you see for the State of the Union.
Then, when the clock strikes 10:01:30, history. Paul Irving, the House Sergeant-at-Arms, will make the announcement:
“Mr. Speaker, the Pope of the Holy See.”
10:00 a.m.: Pope Francis is announced into the Hall of the House.
10:40 a.m.: Pope Francis concludes address to the joint meeting.
The Pope will speak in English. He will not use a teleprompter. That’s all I know about the speech, and all I need to know, frankly. There’s been so much talk about what the Pope will say, and whether he’ll address this or that.
Herein lies exactly why I invited Pope Francis, and two Popes before him.
The Pope transcends all of this. He appeals to our better angels and brings us back to our daily obligations. The best thing we can all do is listen, open our hearts to his message and reflect on his example.
10:45: Pope Francis pauses momentarily in Statuary Hall by the statue of Father Serra.
National Statuary Hall is also known as the Old House Chamber. Every state sends two statues to the Capitol, and one of California’s celebrates Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary. Today, he will become the first saint canonized on American soil. This is another bit of history within a historic visit.
The statues are scattered throughout the building, but we’re fortunate that Father Serra’s statue is right along the route from the House Chamber to the Speaker’s Balcony. The Pope will have a chance to pause at the statue.
The West Front
10:50 a.m.: Pope Francis is escorted to the Speaker’s Balcony by House and Senate Sergeant at Arms, the Vice President, Speaker and joint Congressional Leadership.
When we started, one of the challenges I posed to my team was, ‘how do we make this event open to the American people?’ This is, after all, the people’s House.
I thought, well, we can’t fit everyone inside the House chamber, but we can have people out on the front lawn. And we can show the Pope the best view in our capital city.
It’s going to be quite something. We’ve made 50,000 tickets available. Jumbotrons everywhere. A military band on the terrace. Guests from all walks of life, including inner-city Catholic school students from here in Washington, DC. This is what the view will look like from the Pope’s perspective.
I just can’t think of a better way to show Pope Francis how grateful we are to welcome him to our Capitol.
11:00 a.m.: Pope Francis is escorted by the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to departure.
When you grow up Catholic, you learn about the Pope as a distant figure, closer to God than any of us. To have him here, at our Capitol, among our people, is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. A glimpse of grace.
Someone who puts it better than I could is Milady Carcamo, one of the students who will be here tomorrow.
Milady is a 4th grader at Sacred Heart School here in Washington. Her favorite subject is math, and she hopes to be a doctor when she grows up. She wrote an essay about what it means to her to see the Pope, and here’s a quote from it:
“When I heard I was going to see the Pope I felt happy and surprised that I was going to see him because I have never seen a Pope in real life. Pope Francis inspires me because he is good and brave and he cares for others.”
See you tomorrow, everyone.