Guest list for White House visit stirs controversy

With the pope’s arrival Tuesday, there has been a simmering controversy over the Obama administration’s guest list for his visit to the White House.

On Monday, Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee waded into the debate with a tweet that said: “Classless decision by POTUS to transform Pontifex visit into a politicized cattle call is an insult to millions of Catholics.”

But the Vatican and White House played down reports of differences over the guest list, which includes the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, a leader for transgender rights, a gay Catholic blogger and a prominent nun-lobbyist who bucked the bishops on the Affordable Care Act – for an event on the South Lawn to be attended by about 15,000 people Wednesday.

A Vatican source involved in the planning of the pope’s trip said it made sense not to “put him in an embarrassing situation,” but it wasn’t a big worry, if there were a handful of open church dissenters among the thousands.

The debate over the invitations has been fueled by online conservative critics. An article by Thomas Williams in Breitbart last week said, “In a stunning show of political indecorum, Obama has invited a series of individuals who publicly flout Catholic teaching.”

Ed Morrissey on a site called Hot Air said, “I’m curious. When the Saudis visited the White House this month, did Obama invite women’s-rights activists to dinner with them?”

Native Americans challenge pope’s canonization of missionary

When Pope Francis canonizes 18th-century missionary Junipero Serra as a saint Wednesday in a Mass in Washington, he will give Hispanic-Americans a saint of their own — and put a halo on one of the most controversial figures in California’s Native American history.

The Vatican is holding Serra up as a founding father of the United States, a figure who defended the native tribes from the cruelty of Spanish colonizers.

The Franciscan friar, born in Spain, founded nine missions in what is now California to convert indigenous tribes to Christianity before his death in 1784. But with the Spanish came disease, which decimated Native Americans in the missions as they were forced to give up their ancestral land and culture.

Now their descendants say that declaring the founder of the mission system a saint is an outrage and an insult to their history.

“It is incomprehensible for us to think that you would canonize a person who is ultimately responsible for the death of approximately 100,000 California Indians and the complete extermination of many native tribes, cultures and languages,” Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun tribal band, wrote in a letter to Pope Francis asking him to halt the canonization.

Serra’s defenders say he was not responsible for the brutality of the Spanish colonizers.

Pope’s modest ride underscores simple style

Pope Francis waves from inside a Fiat 500 as he leaves Andrews Air Force Base in Md., on Tuesday.

Pope Francis waves from inside a Fiat 500 as he leaves Andrews Air Force Base in Md., on Tuesday. The Associated Press

Pope Francis was hard to spot in the motorcade of more than 20 armed SUVs and police cars motoring into the nation’s capital on Tuesday. The pontiff shunned the fancy wheels in favor of a much more modest ride: a Fiat.

After he stepped off his plane at Andrews Air Force Base in neighboring Maryland, Francis was driven away in the back of a tiny, charcoal gray Fiat 500L. The four-door model was sandwiched between two enormous black SUVs in the motorcade.

Francis has made a point of using modest cars, part of his emphasis on simplicity and conservatism and rejection of today’s consumerist lifestyle.

Storm could mean showers for outdoor Mass in Philadelphia

Forecasters say a storm moving up the Atlantic coast this week could dampen Pope Francis’ outdoor Mass in Philadelphia.

The National Weather Service says clouds will blanket the region all weekend, with a chance of showers beginning Sunday morning.

Organizers expect hundreds of thousands of people for a festival and concert featuring Francis on Saturday and his Mass on Sunday. About 40,000 people are ticketed for his Saturday speech on immigration and religious freedom at Independence Mall.

Tight schedule limits how pope is greeted in Congress

No handshakes, selfies or fist bumps when Pope Francis enters the House chamber for his historic speech to Congress.

That’s the message from House and Senate leaders, who in a letter asked lawmakers to refrain “from handshakes and conversations along and down the center aisle during the announced arrivals of the Senate, dean of the Diplomatic Corps, U.S. Supreme Court, president’s Cabinet and Pope Francis.”

The pontiff will be on a tight schedule Thursday, and congressional leaders want to avoid anything that could slow him down, such as members of Congress shaking hands with the chief of one of the departments or greeting a Supreme Court justice or even the pontiff himself.

The pope is scheduled to arrive at the Capitol shortly after 9 a.m., meet with House Speaker John Boehner, then address a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at 10 a.m. Vice President Joe Biden, diplomats, justices and Cabinet members are expected in a jam-packed chamber.

House members and senators each were allocated one ticket to distribute for seats in the House gallery.

The speech also will be telecast on giant screens on the West Lawn of the Capitol, where up to 50,000 people with tickets are expected to view it.

After his speech to Congress, the pope will appear on the Capitol balcony facing the National Mall to address the crowds.