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Boehner Invites Friends, Old and Young, to Papal Address

Boehner is the House's top-ranking Catholic. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner has invited an eclectic group of guests to watch Pope Francis' address to Congress from the House chamber and the West Lawn Thursday.  

The Ohio Republican can't help but be scrutinized for his selections which are, as with every event of this nature, inherently political. But for the pope's visit, the Catholic speaker is by and large playing it safe, picking people from his past and those who represent more feel-good causes, as opposed to those who might incite controversy.  

For gallery seats, he checks the "public figure" box by playing host to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., a converted Catholic, and Gingrich's wife, Callista. Boehner served under Gingrich during the historic House GOP majority of the mid-1990s.  

Also in the gallery will be Teo Nowakowski, the mother of Paula Nowakowski, Boehner's longtime chief of staff who died suddenly at her home in Alexandria, Va., in 2010. A news release announcing the guest list stated that Paula Nowakowski "counted Pope John Paul II among her heroes."  

Not one to forget his roots, Boehner gave a fourth gallery ticket to Jerry Vanden Eyden, a childhood friend with whom Boehner attended Catholic school.  

His West Lawn tickets are being doled out to students from the District of Columbia's inner-city Catholic schools. When Boehner was the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee earlier in his congressional career, he helped create a scholarship program allowing the city's low-income students to attend parochial and private schools.  

He's continued to champion the initiative as speaker, and while it is derided by Democrats as sucking funds away from D.C.'s public and charter schools, it's hard to be angry with "the children."  

In fact, the youngsters on Boehner's guest list have written short and inspiring messages about why they are excited to see the pope, which the speaker's office included in its Wednesday news release.  

"The Pope has shown me that a leader is letting others give you a hand when you need it," wrote Jaden Roundtree, a 7th grader from St. Francis Xavier school.  

"Pope Francis doesn't just speak about problems," Samuel Merga, an 11th grader at Archbishop Carroll High School, weighed in, "he attempts to fix problems."  

In a particularly precious turn, Milady Carcamo, a 4th grader at Sacred Heart School, said: "When I heard I was going to see the Pope I felt happy and surprised that I was going to see him because I have never seen a Pope in real. Pope Francis inspires me because he is good and brave and he cares for others."  

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