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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, extended an open invitation to Pope Francis on Thursday to speak before a Joint Meeting of Congress if he were to ever travel to the United States.
Boehner, who is a practicing Catholic, extended the invitation to address lawmakers of both parties on the first anniversary of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's ascension to the papacy.
The National Catholic Reporter reported in January that the pope may travel to the United States in 2015, citing Vatican sources, but noted that those plans were still fluid.
The short, one-page letter simply says:
"It is my honor as Speaker, and on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, to extend to you as head of state of the Holy See an open invitation to appear before and address a Joint Meeting of the two houses of Congress assembled in the Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives."
No pope has ever addressed a joint meeting of Congress; the last pope to visit the United States, Benedict XVI, visited George W. Bush at the White House and said mass at Nationals Park. The invitation was bipartisan, too: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, herself a practicing Catholic, said she was "pleased" by the invitation.
President Barack Obama will meet for the first time with Francis, for whom the president has publicly professed his admiration, at the Vatican later this month.
Francis has emerged as a popular figure among American Catholics and the broader United States for his pastoral emphasis as pope. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week found that 60 percent of American Catholics say the pope has strengthened their faith, and 55 percent of all Americans have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis.