Pope Francis delivers historic speech to Congress

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WASHINGTON -- Pope Francis will make history on Thursday by becoming the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress in a speech that's expected to challenge lawmakers on some of the most divisive issues in American politics.

Then, in another gesture designed to make politicians uncomfortable, Francis won't enjoy a lavish meal with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Instead, he'll go directly to a lunch with homeless people helped by Catholic charities.

On the third day of his visit to the United States, Francis, the first Jesuit pope, is expected to lean even deeper into politics than his blunt address on the White House lawn on Tuesday, in which he tackled climate change, immigration, the need to respect religious liberty and President Barack Obama's opening to Cuba.

Many of his views are likely to openly clash with the entrenched positions on Capitol Hill, where Republicans control both the House and the Senate. But he could put Democrats on the spot as well if he weighs in on the abortion debate and if he calls for traditional marriage to be protected.

The Argentine-born Pope introduced himself Wednesday at the White House as the "son of an immigrant family," making clear his deep personal connection to an issue that has opened up bitter fault lines in the 2016 presidential race and within the Republican Party.

Francis will give his speech from the House of Representatives, with Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden -- both Catholics -- sitting behind him. Francis is expected to greet crowds following an appearance on the Speaker's Balcony.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a devout Catholic, will attend the address, as will Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor, who also are Catholic. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Jewish, will be in the audience, too.

Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will also be in the audience.

On Wednesday, Francis signaled that he was ready to engage in politics as well as ministering to the Catholic Church's 70 million U.S. believers.

He told Obama it was "encouraging" the President was committed to battling climate change, saying the planet was at a "critical moment in history."

He also said that men and women of goodwill should redouble efforts to support the world's most vulnerable people, in comments seen as pushing his vision of a more inclusive vision of global capitalism.

Francis' parades through the streets near the White House and Catholic University, meanwhile, sparked an adoring outpouring from the crowds. Several times, the white Jeep Wrangler converted into his Popemobile slowed so the pontiff could bless small children handed to him by security agents.

Francis will travel to New York late Thursday afternoon and will wrap up his six-day visit to the United States in Philadelphia on Sunday.

By Stephen Collinson

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