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A Papal Audience for Members

It sounds like layfolk still hoping to score tickets to tomorrow's papal Mass at Nationals Park are out of luck. But, as is often the case, members of Congress appear to have been blessed with better fortune. The Catholic ones, anyway.

More than 100 members of the House and Senate are expected to attend tomorrow's Mass, accoring to congressional sources. The lawmakers will be transported from the Capitol to the stadium on several chartered buses, presumably with a police escort that will help them avoid the street closures and traffic jams of biblical proportions that have been forecast. Dozens of Hill staffers are also expected to attend, though it is not clear how many will take the special buses and how many will simply find their own way to the stadium.

The Archdiocese of Washington handled ticketing for the event, choosing to invite congressional leaders and members from the D.C. area, as well as all Catholic lawmakers. "We invited Catholic members since this is a religious service," explained Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs, pointing out that there was a civil event with Pope Benedict XVI at the White House today that non-Catholic lawmakers could attend.

How did the Archdiocese figure out which members were Catholic? "Religious affiliation is widely known," Gibbs said, adding that "the US Conference of Catholic Bishops also has staff that work with Congress."

Members' religious affiliations are indeed easy to find in several different reference books (though some lawmakers are vague, saying "Christian" or "Protestant" rather than giving specific denominations). At 29 percent, Roman Catholics make up the single largest faith group in Congress, according to this Religion News Service story.

Non-Catholic members interviewed by Capitol Briefing seemed unbothered by their lack of invitations to tomorrow's Mass. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), a Protestant who is active in the antiabortion movement, said the invite list made sense because "it means a great deal for Catholc members and their staffs to go. Obviously for the members who are Catholic it's much more important to them" than it would be to non-Catholics.

Catholic Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he wasn't sure how the invitations or ticketing worked, but he was excited to be going. "I'm just getting on the bus. If I get a chance to see the Pope, I'm going to see the Pope," he said.

By Ben Pershing  |  April 16, 2008; 4:44 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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