House Speaker John Boehner, the nation's highest-ranking Catholic in the House of Representatives, declined an invitation today from President Obama to join the U.S. delegation to Pope Francis' papal investiture, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi unabashedly expressed her hope to attend the March 19 event.
Following his meeting with House Republicans at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, where the president was passed a note and broke the news to lawmakers that the College of Cardinals had chosen a new pope, Obama invited Boehner to join Vice President Joe Biden as part of the U.S. delegation attending the pope's inauguration, according to a senior aide to the speaker.
"I am grateful for the invitation to attend the papal investiture in Rome with Vice President Biden, and would like to be able to join the trip. Unfortunately, my duties in the House next week - including hosting President Obama and the Prime Minister of Ireland at the Capitol on Tuesday, and the debate on the budget - make that impossible," Boehner wrote in a statement declining the invitation. "I wish the vice president all the best in his journey and hope he communicates the prayers and warm regards of every American, especially Catholics, to the first pope from the Americas."
At a news conference today, a reporter asked Pelosi, the highest-ranking Catholic Democrat in the House, whether she is attending the Holy Mass in St. Peter's Square to inaugurate the pope next Tuesday.
"I hope so," Pelosi answered.
"Have you been invited?" the reporter pressed.
"I hope so," Pelosi repeated with a chuckle, indicating she is still waiting on a presidential invitation. "Stay tuned, and I'll let you know if … I'm going and when."
President Obama meets with the House Democratic Caucus at 2:15 p.m. today, so perhaps Pelosi is hoping for good news from the president then.
Pelosi expressed her "insatiable appetite" for every detail reported on the historical event, and she recounted how she absorbed the developments on TV as the news unfolded.
"You're always looking for signs. But when the bird was on the - did you see this? That there was a bird, a seagull on the chimney for like 40 minutes before the white smoke came," Pelosi said in disbelief. "St. Francis has always been surrounded by birds. We're reading a great deal into the symbolism of that."
She praised the pope's name choice, Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, who also was the inspiration for the name of her home city, San Francisco.
"It's pretty exciting that we have a pope. Habemus papam!" Pelosi said. "As a San Franciscan, I'm particularly happy at the name that the pope has chosen, Francis."
"St. Francis of Assisi cared for all of God's creation," she continued. "Today it appears that St. Francis of Assisi is the namesake of our new pope. Pretty exciting.
"In our city, 'The Song of St. Francis' is our anthem … where there is darkness, may we bring light; despair, may we bring hope; hatred, may we bring love; to forgive so that we can be forgiven," Pelosi said. "It's very exciting. I'm just so thrilled."