Pope Francis at the Capitol, Congress and crowds gather

Fresh from enrapturing crowds all over Washington, Pope Francis is bringing his message of humility and hope to Capitol Hill as he becomes the first pontiff in history to speak to a joint meeting of Congress.


Speaking to Congress, Pope Francis is calling for an end to the death penalty in the U.S. and across the world.

Francis says that every life is sacred and society can only benefit from rehabilitating those convicted of crimes.

The pope noted that U.S. bishops have renewed their call to abolish capital punishment. That idea is unpopular, however, with many American politicians.

The pontiff did not specifically mention abortion - a particularly contentious issue in Congress at the moment that threatens to force the shutdown of the U.S. government next week.

Still, his remarks referred to the Catholic church's opposition to abortion. He urged lawmakers and all Americans to "protect and defend human life at every stage of its development."

11 a.m.

Pope Francis is lamenting that the very basis of marriage and family life today is being put into question - an allusion to gay marriage in a country that recently legalized same-sex marriage across the land.

Speaking before Congress in the first-ever papal address, Francis said the family today is "threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without."

While Francis has shown great openness to gays as individuals, he has staunchly upheld the church teaching that marriage is a union between man and woman.

Sitting in front of Francis for his speech was John Roberts, chief justice of the Supreme Court, which legalized gay marriage across the country.

Francis is expected to speak in greater depth about the threats to families at a big church rally in Philadelphia later this week.


11 a.m.

Pope Francis is demanding an end to the arms trade, delivering a tough message to a country that is the world's largest exporter of weapons.

Speaking before Congress, the pope asked why weapons are being sold to people who intend only to inflict suffering on innocents. He said: "Sadly, the answer as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood."

Francis has in the past denounced weapons makers and dealers as "the root of evil" and questioned how weapons manufacturers can call themselves Christian.

Francis has, however, said that it is legitimate to use military force against an "unjust aggression," such as the attacks by Islamic extremists against Christian and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.


10:50 a.m.

Pope Francis has used his speech to Congress to express sympathy for American Indians for their "turbulent and violent" early contacts with arriving Europeans. But he says it is hard to judge past actions by today's standards.

Francis did not specifically use the term American Indians. He said the rights of "those who were here long before us" were not always respected.

He says that "for those people and their nations," he wants to express his highest esteem and appreciation.

Francis has been criticized by some Native Americans for his decision to canonize an 18th century missionary, Junipero Serra, on Wednesday. Indigenous groups say Serra was part of the violent colonizing machine that wiped out indigenous populations. Francis has defended Serra as a great evengelizer who protected indigenous peoples from the abuses of colonizers.


10:35 a.m.

Speaking to Congress, Pope Francis is calling for an end to the death penalty in the U.S. and across the world.

Francis says that every life is sacred and society can only benefit from rehabilitating those convicted of crimes.

The pope noted that U.S. bishops have renewed their call to abolish capital punishment. That idea is unpopular, however, with many American politicians.

The pontiff did not specifically mention abortion - a particularly contentious issue in Congress at the moment that threatens to force the shutdown of the U.S. government next week.

Still, his remarks referred to the Catholic church's opposition to abortion. He urged lawmakers and all Americans to "protect and defend human life at every stage of its development."


10:30 a.m.

Pope Francis is urging Congress members - and the United States as a whole - not to be afraid of immigrants but to welcome them as fellow human beings.

He says people are not things that can be discarded just because they are troublesome.

The pontiff's admonition comes as the presidential race is roiled by questions about immigration from Mexico and Latin America, and the nation is weighing how many migrants to accept from wars in the Middle East.

The son of Italian immigrants to Argentina himself, Francis noted that the United States was founded by immigrants, that many lawmakers are descended from foreigners, and that this generation must not "turn their back on our neighbors."

His plea: "Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated."



Pope Francis is calling for a "delicate balance" in fighting religious extremism to ensure that fundamental freedoms aren't trampled at the same time.

He says in his speech to Congress that "no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism."

He says religious, intellectual and individual freedoms must be safeguarded, while combatting violence perpetrated in the name of religion.

The pope cautions against simplistically breaking the world into camps of good and evil.

Francis has expressed deep concern about the slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic extremists, fearing that the Christian presence in the region is risk. He's dispatched envoys to Iraq with money and other forms of assistance to help refugees.



Pope Francis has opened his historic speech to Congress by describing himself as a "son of this great continent" joined in a common purpose with America.

The Argentine-born pope is the first from the Americas. And his speech to Congress is the first by any pontiff.

A bipartisan group of congressional leaders escorted him up the aisle for his speech in the House chamber, as tens of thousands waited outside.



Pope Francis has arrived in the House chamber for his speech to Congress.

The pontiff walked up the aisle to thunderous applause from standing lawmakers, and paused to shake the hand of Secretary of State John Kerry.

House Speaker John Boehner told lawmakers he had the "high privilege and distinct honor" of presenting the pope.


9:30 a.m.

With a handshake and a smile, House Speaker John Boehner has welcomed Pope Francis to his ornate ceremonial office in the Capitol prior to the first papal address to Congress in history.

The Ohio Republican told Francis, "Your Holiness, welcome, really glad that you're here."

Boehner's eyes moistened as the pope told him he was glad to be there, too.

The two men then sat next to each other, accompanied by Vatican and church officials and Boehner aides.

Boehner told the pontiff that his staff had urged him to wear the green tie he was sporting. That drew a compliment from Francis, delivered through an interpreter.

The interpreter told Boehner, "He says it's a tie with the color of hope."

Before the pope's arrival, Boehner told those waiting with him that the pope's visit was "a big deal" for him, as a Catholic.


9:20 a.m.

Pope Francis met briefly with House Speaker John Boehner in an opening act of his historic visit to Congress.

Awaiting the pope's arrival, Boehner repeatedly straightened his tie and shifted from foot to foot, and joked and chatted with reporters about the history of the House furnishings. Their visit lasted only a few minutes. Tens of thousands wait outside, with lawmakers and guests seated in the House chamber for the first speech by a pope to Congress.


8:50 a.m.

The pope greeted well-wishers outside the Vatican's diplomatic mission on his way to his historic visit to Congress.

As he did Wednesday, Francis lingered with the excited crowd outside the mission, on another sunny day. Tens of thousands await him on Capitol Hill.

The pope shook hands and touched the faces of schoolchildren, dressed up in ties or Sunday dresses. As the pope moved past, one young boy shouted, "Oh yeah! I got a selfie."

After his speech to Congress, Francis is expected to go to the Hall of Statues, where there is a statue of America's newest saint, Junipero Serra, whom Francis canonized on Wednesday.

Joined by House Speaker John Boehner, he'll then offer to the Library of Congress a special edition of the Bible. Then he's to go to a balcony to greet and offer a benediction to the throngs below.


8:30 a.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration is reminding people that Washington, New York and Philadelphia are no-drone zones during the pope's visit to the U.S.

The FAA has put in flight restrictions through Sunday. That means flying a drone or unmanned aircraft anywhere in those cities is against the law and may result in criminal or civil charges.

Pope Francis leaves Washington on Thursday for New York and goes to Philadelphia on Saturday.


8:20 a.m.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is bringing Tom Steyer, who's a California-based environmentalist and top Democratic donor, and Marc Benioff, a business software CEO, to the House gallery for the pope's speech.

Among other guests, she's also invited Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, and Matilda Cuomo, mother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and widow of former Gov. Mario Cuomo.


8:15 a.m.

Security is tight at the Capitol as crowds gather for Pope Francis' arrival.

Streets are closed within a three-block radius of the Capitol and police advise visitors to avoid driving to the scene. The city's subway was packed with riders hours before his speech to Congress but few delays were reported.

Police are visible throughout the Capitol complex and visitors are encountering a series of security checkpoints.


8:10 a.m.

"Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See!"

Those booming words will announce Pope Francis as he arrives for his historic speech as the first pontiff to address a joint session of Congress.

The man who will perform the ceremonial call is more accustomed to protecting famous people than introducing them.

Paul Irving spent his career in the Secret Service. He was a special agent for 25 years and the service's assistant director from 2001 to 2008.

Speaker John Boehner chose him as House sergeant-at-arms in 2012.

When he's not introducing dignitaries before Congress, his main duty is to oversee security in the House side of the Capitol.


8:05 a.m.

Tens of thousands already are gathering on the front lawn of the Capitol to watch the pope's speech on Jumbotron screens and maybe catch a glimpse of Francis. He is expected to wave from a balcony a few hundred yards away.

Libby Miller of Frederick, Maryland, says her friends all told her she was crazy for schlepping to Capitol Hill with her 4-year-old son, Camden, and 2-year-old daughter, Avery.

She left the house before 5 a.m. and settled into a spot on the lawn by 7:30 a.m., about two hours before the pope's scheduled arrival. And she was prepared to keep her kids occupied - iPad loaded with games, toy trucks, snacks and a sippy cup.

Miller says she wants her kids to be there for an important moment in history. They won't understand it now, but she says "they'll get it eventually."


7:45 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is marking Pope Francis' visit to the Capitol in the modern way: on YouTube.

The Kentucky Republican says in a video Thursday morning that Francis' elevation to pope "heralded a new beginning for Catholics in Kentucky, across America and from every corner of the world."

McConnell praises the pope's "unique and engaging style" and says Americans have watched the pope reach new and different audiences, "both from within his flock and far beyond it."


7:30 a.m.

Joint gatherings of Congress for dignitaries' speeches are usually a recipe for competing partisan ovations and chummy backslaps and handshakes.

This time, House and Senate leaders have asked lawmakers: Please, not when the pope is here.

The leaders sent an appeal to lawmakers in advance of Pope Francis' speech Thursday morning, asking them to act with decorum in his presence. Among the no-no's - reaching out for handshakes or conversation with the pope and those accompanying him as they walk down the center aisle of the grand House chamber.

To drum the lesson in, the leaders' letter reminded legislators that the historic event will be seen on television "around the whole world and by many of our constituents."

Leaders have made similar appeals for State of the Union addresses, with little luck.


7 a.m.

With his speech Thursday morning, Francis will become the first pope to address Congress. But the list of foreign leaders and dignitaries who've done so is long.

The House historian's office says it's happened 117 previous times.

Francis won't be the first religious leader to address the House and Senate. Technically that was Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1991, since the British monarch heads the Anglican Church.

The most addresses to Congress? Three, by both British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The historian's office lists the first such speech in 1874. That's when Congress heard King Kalakaua of Hawaii, still an independent kingdom then.

The first speech by a foreign leader to lawmakers was in 1824 by the Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who helped the colonies win independence. But he addressed only the House.


6:45 a.m.

Francis' speech to Congress is a personal and political coup for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican and Catholic.

Boehner unsuccessfully invited the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to speak. He began trying in 1994 during his second House term, organizing a petition by lawmakers saying John Paul II was a `'world leader, ambassador of peace and an important catalyst in the fall of the Iron Curtain."

Francis is the fourth pope to meet with a president in the U.S., including presidential visits on six separate trips by John Paul II.

The first was Paul VI's 1965 New York meeting with President Lyndon Johnson. Benedict XVI met President George W. Bush in 2008.

Francis' coming speech at the United Nations will be the fifth by a pope.

Lawmakers of all political backgrounds and religious affiliations are eagerly welcoming the pope, pledging to pause from the bickering and dysfunction that normally divide them and hear him out Thursday morning. Tens of thousands of spectators gathered after dawn on the West Lawn of the Capitol and beyond, and many more were to watch on TV around the world as the pope addressed a House chamber packed with Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials, diplomats, lawmakers and their guests.

The crowds started arriving early, and security was tight with streets around the Capitol blocked off and a heavy police presence that rivaled an Inauguration or State of the Union address by the U.S. president. The scene on the West Lawn of the Capitol was festive but orderly, as thousands awaited the pope's appearance on the House Speaker's Balcony after his speech to Congress.

Libby Miller of Frederick, Maryland, said her friends all told her she was crazy for schlepping to Capitol Hill with her 4-year-old son, Camden, and 2-year-old daughter, Avery. Miller, armed with toys, snacks and a sippy cup, found a spot on the Capitol lawn and said she wanted her kids to be there for an important moment in history. They won't understand it now, she said, but "they'll get it eventually."

After the sergeant at arms announces the pope by bellowing "Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See," Francis will enter the House chamber and climb to the dais where the president delivers his annual State of the Union address and monarchs and heads of state have addressed Congress. Behind him will sit Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, the first and second in line to the presidency, both Catholics.

Ahead of Francis' remarks lawmakers of both parties have busily sought political advantage from his stances, with Democrats in particular delighting in his support for action to overhaul immigration laws and combat global warming and income inequality. One House Republican back-bencher announced plans to boycott the speech over Francis' activist position on climate change, which the pontiff renewed alongside President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

But Boehner, a Republican and a former altar boy who invited the pope to speak after trying unsuccessfully to lure the two previous pontiffs to the Capitol, has dismissed concerns that the politically engaged Francis will stir the controversies of the day.

"The pope transcends all of this," Boehner said. "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."

The Senate's Republican leader welcomed the pope Thursday morning with an up-to-the-minute video that included images from Wednesday's parade.

"Americans have watched the pope reach new and different audiences, both from within his flock and far beyond it," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

For Congress, the pope was arriving at a moment of particular turmoil: A partial government shutdown looms next week unless lawmakers can resolve a dispute over funding for Planned Parenthood related to the group's practices providing fetal tissue for research. Boehner himself is facing a brewing revolt from tea party members who've threatened to force a floor vote on whether he can keep his job.

Francis was certain to steer clear of such controversies, though the church's opposition to abortion could bolster Republicans in their efforts against Planned Parenthood. For members of Congress, his visit may prove little more than a brief respite from their partisan warfare, offering moments of unusual solemnity, uplift and pomp, but without fundamentally shifting the intractable gears of the U.S. political system.

Indeed there's little sign on Capitol Hill of significant action on the social justice issues dear to Francis' heart. But on Wednesday the pope said simply that in addressing Congress "I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation's political future in fidelity to its founding principles."

Francis enjoys approval ratings the envy of any U.S. politician as he's remade the image of the Catholic Church toward openness and compassion, yet without changing fundamental church doctrine. Addressing a chamber full of elected officials Thursday, he may be the most adept politician in the room.

After speaking in the House chamber Francis was to stop by the Capitol's Statuary Hall and its statue of Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century missionary whom Francis elevated to sainthood Wednesday in the first canonization on U.S. soil.

Later, he planned to stop at St. Patrick's Catholic Church and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, before leaving for New York for more prayer services and a speech to the United Nations.

For Francis, it's been a whirlwind three-day visit to Washington, the first stop on his three-city U.S. tour.

On Wednesday he was cheered by jubilant crowds as he visited the White House, paraded around the Ellipse and spoke to U.S. bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Francis emphasized one of the defining messages of his papacy, to focus less on defending church teaching and more on compassion. The pope told the American church leaders that "harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor," and he encouraged them to speak with anyone.

In his first comments in the U.S. on the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in 2002, the pope praised the bishops for a "generous commitment to bring healing to victims" and for acting "without fear of self-criticism."

An organization for abuse victims quickly disagreed.

"Almost without exception, they have shown cowardice and callousness and continue to do so now," said Barbara Dorris, president of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

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