Pope Francis waves as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square on Jan. 15, 2014.
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, extended a formal and open invitation Thursday to Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress.
If the pontiff accepts, it would be unprecedented. No pope or religious leader that serves as a head of state has ever addressed Congress, according to the U.S. House Historian's office.
"His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions," Boehner said in a statement. " It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full."
Boehner, who is Catholic, said Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his "pastoral manner and servant leadership" to reflect on matters of human dignity, freedom and social justice.
"These principles are among the fundamentals of the American idea," Boehner said, "and though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best, we give them new life as we seek the common good."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also a Catholic, said she joined welcoming Pope Francis to address Congress. Pelosi attended his inauguration at the Vatican and praised him as "a moral force."
Thursday marks one year since the papal conclave elected Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, after the resignation of Pope Benedict.
Francis marked the occasion on his @Pontifex Twitter account with a simple message to his 3.7 million followers: "Please pray for me."
By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
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