- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2015

Moments after his speech to Congress, Pope Francis paused for reflection before a bronze statue of the first saint canonized on U.S. soil.

Lines of well-wishers welcomed the pontiff to Statuary Hall, moments after he addressed lawmakers in the neighboring House chamber.

Pope Francis stopped before a sculpture of Junipero Serra, the 18th century missionary he canonized Wednesday.

Flanked by Speaker John A. Boehner and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the pontiff stood before the statue for about 30 seconds.

He then blessed a 2-week-old baby, Ella Blake, before heading for a Capitol balcony, from which he greeted thousands of cheering faithful gathered on the West Lawn.

Saint Junipero, a Spanish Franciscan, is credited with bringing Catholicism to California. His sainthood is steeped in controversy, however, as some associate him with the brutal treatment of Native Americans at the time.

Statuary Hall is an ornate, black-and-white-tiled room at the Capitol that features sculptures of prominent Americans. Each state is represented by statues in the room, which served as the House chamber from 1807 to 1857.

Dozens watched the pontiff’s address on large TV screens in the room, including former congressmen such as Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican who lost a 2014 Senate bid, and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 and 2008 and took notes during the pope’s speech.

Much like those in the chamber itself, audience members applauded the Holy Father’s entrance and notable remarks.

The blessed baby is the daughter of Mr. Boehner’s director of scheduling, Kristene Blake, and Nate Blake, who also works on Capitol Hill.

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