TOPEKA — When Pope Francis addresses Congress on Thursday, federal lawmakers will be joined by tens of thousands of guests. Though most members of the Kansas delegation invited prominent Catholics from among their respective constituencies, the process was not without political intrigue.
Each member of the House was given more than 50 tickets to distribute, including one highly prized ticket to sit in the House gallery and 50 tickets to the west lawn of the National Mall. Senators also were given one gallery ticket, along with 200 tickets to the National Mall.
Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Catholic representing western Kansas, has invited several anti-abortion advocates to join him in Washington. In addition to his wife, Angela, who will sit in the gallery, Huelskamp invited David Daleiden and Lila Rose.
Daleiden is founder of the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group that has garnered significant attention for their release of 10 videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives engaged in the sale of fetal tissue. Rose is the founder and president of Live Action, an anti-abortion media group.
“America faces multiple, severe challenges to basic human rights, such as the recent revelations about the trafficking in baby parts by Planned Parenthood, and Catholic faith has much light to shed upon these attacks,” Huelskamp said in a statement. “Pope Francis does not come as a politician, but as a pastor, as a moral leader.”
Huelskamp’s list of invitees includes another notable name — Alan LaPolice.
LaPolice, a fellow Catholic, is an outspoken critic of Huelskamp who lost a primary election to the congressman last year and has again registered as a candidate for the First District congressional race. LaPolice said this week he had accepted Huelskamp’s invitation.
Huelskamp’s other invitees are far less surprising. Benedictine College president Stephen Minnis and Fort Hays University President Mirta Martin were both invited, as were Donetta and Lester Robben of Divine Mercy Radio in Hays and Raschelle Jirak of the Wichita Diocese.
“I am honored to welcome Kansans to Washington, D.C., to witness what I hope will be an inspiring articulation of Catholic social teaching, especially the evil of abortion, defending traditional marriage and families, and protecting religious liberties,” Huelskamp said.
Sen. Jerry Moran will be accompanied in the gallery by his eldest daughter, Kelsey Moran, and Rep. Kevin Yoder will be accompanied by his wife, Brooke, according to spokespeople for the two Republicans.
Sen. Pat Roberts’ gallery guest is Christine Lemmon of Lenexa, a Catholic mother of six. Roberts spokeswoman Sarah Little said the senator has known Lemmon “for many years.”
Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ guest will be Rev. Mick Mulvaney, a former associate pastor of Christ the King and interim pastor at St. Matthew’s in Topeka. Mulvaney now heads the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Lawrence.
“Father Mick is a lifelong Kansan and very well regarded in the communities in which he has pastored throughout northeast Kansas,” Jenkins said. “I look forward to hearing His Holiness’ message and for the historic visit to our nation’s U.S. Capitol.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo, who represents Wichita and south-central Kansas, will also be accompanied by a clergyman, Most Rev. Carl A. Kemme with the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.
“In such a short time, Pope Francis has touched the hearts and minds of millions around the world by his authentic humility, his deep compassion for the poor and his clarion call for the church to be a church of mercy,” Kemme said in a statement.
Pope Francis is expected to arrive at the Capitol at 9:15 a.m. eastern time Thursday. After a brief one-on-one discussion with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, the pontiff is scheduled to begin his address around 10 a.m. and speak for about 30 minutes.